Wish you were here: A review of Brooklyn

Brooklyn (2015)

Brooklyn (2015)

Brooklyn is a about a woman, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) who is torn between two lives, one in Brooklyn, and one back in her home town in Ireland, both of which she has found love in.

I really liked this film. I don’t start many reviews with that statement, but I just wanted to immediately say, I really liked this film.

It’s a very wonderful, subtle, honest story, brilliantly told, with a superb, breathtaking central performance from Saoirse Ronan, who is capable of stealing any scene, in any film she’s in. I remember seeing her in The Lovely Bones, which was a strange, dark film, in which Stanley Tucci gave an incredible, terrifying performance, but Ronan was clearly the one who was about to go on to great things.

Seeing the trailer for this film, I was thinking that it looked a bit cheesy, a love story across two countries, and whilst it is that, it’s also so much more. It has a defter touch, and rougher edges. This isn’t something that can be easily brushed off as a period love story, no, it’s more akin to Testament of Youth from earlier this year, which, like Brooklyn, also told the story of a strong female character finding love amidst troubled times.

Saoirse Ronan isn’t in the middle of a war here, but she has a sister that she’s left to take care of their ailing mother, and she’s a small town girl going to the big city, and suffering from incredible homesickness. There’s a point, halfway through this film in which there’s a very clear turn around, a moment which makes you hunker down in your seat, gearing yourself up for what can only be difficult to watch.

It’s because the writer Nick Hornby and director John  Crowley have taken their time to establish and develop this story, making sure to build up both lives on either side of the Atlantic as viable life pursuits.

I’m going to be dropping some spoilers from now on, so if you don’t want to know what happens, stop reading.

Her life in Brooklyn starts off as hard and tough, but once she meets Tony, everything falls into place, and suddenly America is more of a home. Halfway through the film, her sister gut wrenchingly dies, leaving her mother without anyone to be there for her. Eilis must travel back to Ireland, and whilst there she is figuratively strong armed into staying with her lonely mother, soon to be married best friend and Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), a man she begins to form a connection with, even though she got married before leaving Brooklyn.

There’s a real pain to what she’s going through. Losing her sister was painful to watch, and seeing her ignore Tony’s letters was tough, considering we know this is where her heart must truly lie. Tony is a black canvas at first, but as she becomes charmed by him, so are we, the audience. He’s an honest and kind man, who treats her like a person, and makes her new life as good as it could possibly be.

Their blossoming romance is delightfully sweet, without any syrup, and it takes realistic leaps during its development. When her sister dies, he’s there for her, and understands that she has to go back home for a while. Thus, it’s horrible to see her face up to her distraught and lonely mother, and have everyone telling her that she should stay.

No one knows she’s married, of course, but once she realises that she needs to return to America, the film builds to a wonderful finale, in which she becomes the strong, confident woman that she met on the boat at the beginning, and is able to instruct a young naive immigrant about how to survive, before reuniting with Tony, in an understated but tear inducing final scene.

Saoirse Ronan IS fantastic. Her command of tiny emotions in every inch of her face, makes her mesmerizing, and we feel every single elegant joy, and each shattering despair. She’s a rich, engaging character who we follow with rapt attention, willing her to go to the life that makes her happiest, even if poor Domhnall Gleeson is perfectly likeable.

The cinematography looks lovely, with a warm colour palette and an evocative 50’s style that bathes each shot in a comfortable nostalgia. The direction is also fantastic, there is no fear in holding shots for a long time, especially when capturing the raw emotion of a performer like Ronan, and when it comes to some of the more emotional moments, we are able to witness the impact clearly, without them ever outstaying their welcome.

The other performers are all excellent. Emory Cohen is great as Tony, and Fiona Glascott as sister Rose, is quietly pained inside. Julie Walters also provides the films best laughs as the matriarch of a boarding house, who is stern, but not to ridiculous lengths.

The other fantastic element of this film is its exquisite score, from ‘The Perks of being a Wallflower’ composer, Michael Brook. It’s a beautiful score, that effortlessly captures the anguish and jubilance of Lacey’s life, whilst not ever being too overwrought or forgettable.

Halfway through, as Eilis serves food for the homeless, elderly immigrants, long past the days of building bridges and tunnels, a man stands up and sings a song ‘Casadh an Tsugain’, which is incredibly moving and poignant, as the camera moves around the faces of all the men who came here, did their bit and got old, and is a stark reminder of the ideals that Eilis should take into consideration in her struggle to find her home.

There was more than once occasion in which I cried, when the sister died, when Eilis felt homesick, or at the end when she was reunited with Tony. It’s a hugely emotional film, with a strong story, a superb central performance that really touches you, but also enough humour to lighten up some of the harsher things.

Basically, I was captivated. That’s all you really want from a film, isn’t it?

Rating: B+  8/10 (Top end B+)

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