Brooklyn

BROOKLYN. Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Fiona Glascott, Jane Brennan, and Julie Waters. Directed by John Crowley. Rated M (Coarse language and brief sex scene). 112 min.

This Canadian-Irish, immigrant period-drama is based on Colin Toibin's novel of the same name, published in 2009. It tells the story of a young Irish woman's immigration to Brooklyn, New York. It has been rated consistently as one of best films of 2015, and is nominated for three Academy Awards. The story is of a woman, who is caught between two men who have declared their love for her, and who experiences life across two different cultures.

Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is a young woman, who lives with her mother (Jane Brennan) and older sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott) in a small village in Southeast Ireland. The world outside her village, barely affects Eilis, and Rose arranges for her to move to the US to try to find a better future than an economically depressed Ireland seems to offer her. Arriving in the US, after a difficult passage, Eilis takes up residence in an Irish boarding house in Brooklyn, which is managed by an acerbic landlady, Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Waters). A caring local Catholic Priest, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), helps her assimilate to American life by sponsoring her immigration and paying for her to upgrade her skills. Notably, the movie's script gives some wonderfully witty asides to Mrs Kehoe.

At a local dance in her new country, Eilis catches the attention of an Italian boy called Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), and they are attracted to each other. Just as romance blossoms between them, Rose unexpectedly dies, and Eilis experiences the pull to go back home. Eilis returns to Ireland to comfort her mother, and marries Tony civilly, but not sacramentally, before she goes. Back home, Ireland begins to look far more attractive to her than before, and she stops opening the letters she receives from Tony - especially after a good-looking Irish man, attracted by her New York sophistication and charm, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), declares his affection. Upon being reminded by an interfering, mischievous villager that her past will catch up with her, Eilis decides she must choose between the two men who love her.

The film tugs self-consciously at the heart strings in an escapist way, and addresses complex themes that roam broadly through it. They include life-choices dictated by time and place, and the film considers major questions such as which of two loves to choose from, how two countries can lay claim on one's affection, and how to cope with the lure of home-sickness. Eilis is not so sure when she is told by Father Flood that "homesickness makes you feel wretched, and you move onto something else". In this and other ways, the film illustrates features of Irish Catholicism.

Saoirse Ronan gives a subtle and sensitive interpretation of Eilis's character. Eilis is prim and proper on the surface, but deeper currents flow through her personality. Her initially passive demeanour grows with experience into the disposition and character of an exciting, determined woman who experiences contradictory emotions. Ronan plays the part very well, and she is very ably supported by Emory Cohen as Tony Fiorello, and Domhnall Gleeson as Jim Farrell. When Eilis returns to Ireland, the pull of her home country is communicated powerfully, and the film as a historical and social commentary comes into its own as an engaging and moving piece of cinema. The movie mixes humour, drama, nostalgia and melodrama effectively, and the story throughout unfolds gradually at a measured and steady pace.

This is a bitter-sweet film that illustrates compassion, warmth and understanding. It recreates the atmosphere of the 50s well, and delivers old fashion romance poignantly and melodramatically. Its direction (by John Crowley) is very much controlled, and it is influenced heavily by nostalgia. The film might have dealt with its themes with more depth, and it communicates no unexpected dramatic insights. Nevertheless, it is a very enjoyable movie with a great performing cast, and it captures thoughtfully subtle differences that exist across cultures, and which clearly affect Eilis.

When the final credits roll by, it is the wonderfully expressive performance of Saoirse Ronan that best reinforces the simple charm of this entertaining movie.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Transmission Films

Released February 11th., 2016