As myself and the audience around me glimmer with excitement to view our film, you can feel a sense of warmth in the air and a tinge of classic period piece energy exuding immediately through the scenes introduction. Immediately swept into a early 50’s Ireland, we are introduced to a fair skinned young lady whose Irish accent only adds to her innocently exuded personality in which we have barely figured out. Saoirse Ronan is Eilis, a 20-something young lady constricted by the small village existence she becomes victim to as her desire for a better life comes with a desire to travel to America and make a living. With the conservative fashion to the childlike wonders of America, Eilis leaves her mother and older sister in hopes to become one of the success stories she had always heard from the land of the free and the home of the brave.
With a time period like the early 1950’s you would imagine this film being a downer with harsh dramatic tendencies to invoke deep seeded emotions, but the tone director John Crowley chooses is far lighthearted. At it’s core, Brooklyn is a coming of age story while serving as a friendly reminder that our ancestors whether Irish or not paved a way for us to become who we are today. Eilis becomes a character whose love for “home” becomes tinkered with, pitting her between Ireland and the new world of Brooklyn New York. Bringing into a colorful and free spirited decade of fun and social change, Crowley and his team of set designers and costume designers bring the bold color and classic Hollywood vibes to the film without mimicking and takes the unique route of focusing strictly on one main character and her journey of self discovery and confronting situations.
It’s a story about finding your way and what you end up finding, for Eilis, it’s love. Through letters and tears that fall for the loathing of her decision to come to America, she leaves her loving and caring mother and sister who support her decisions with humor and heart. Of course, her love does not strictly belong to her family. Courted by a young Italian man who goes by the name of Tony, you assume – if you have seen enough mob movies – that Italians and the Irish tend to mix like water and oil. Catching his eye does a young Italian boy, with a love for the Brooklyn Dodgers, try to sweep our lady off her feet with some classic 50’s moves. Moves that include actually treating and respecting Eilis with respect and care unlike so many depictions of relationships in that era. Together they dance, have actual physical conversations, and better one another as their stints on earth lengthen and shrink.
The beauty of such a story like this taking place in such contrasting settings is realizing what makes each place so different and how each location changes our protagonist for the better. Ireland becomes a metaphor for the humble beginnings Eilis was brought in and Brooklyn serves as the metaphor for a new beginning. Once they two places collide as do the decisions of our lady, a chain of events perpetrate Eilis’ psyche and emotional balance. Her transformation as a young woman are what make this film so remarkable. Easily she could have been the stereotypical “woman of the 50’s” but instead she is a woman in the 50’s and it shows. She is both smart and beautiful, though not in a shallow manor, and she has more to offer than most of the borders she lives with. Often playing as a more comedic version of the wicked step-sisters, the other Irish borders – with an exception of Arrow’s Emily Bett Rickards as the one non-Irish border – anchored by a hilarious and scene stealing Julie Walters as Ma Kehoe, Eilis’ relationships all serve as elements that help define her as a respectable character.
The moments set in New York will make anybody born before the 50’s weep with nostalgia and those who fantasize about the days of “easy living” and family values will treasure every moment this film will offer like it’s a trinket from the era itself. It’s a beautiful homage to the time periods and creates a world that we fall into like a refreshing pool in the summer. One of the best scenes in the entire film come at pivotal moments for the character’s development. Without giving too much away, a scene when a man elegantly bellows a Celtic tune is sobering and haunting while the other scene comes the dinner table scene you see in the trailers. The humor makes you laugh, but you aren’t watching a comedy and the drama can make you cry, but it doesn’t become a soap opera. Balance. It’s a word you can use to describe the protagonist whether she has it or not but which ever you answer, it’s worth the watch.
It’s when she returns to Ireland to see how her home as all but changed for the extreme. She is accomplished, confident, and has filled voids in her life she thought not possible. Even then, the past has a funny way of playing tricks on you and making you strongly believe in something that may not be true and then conflict moves into your head and heart. A subtle but charming Domhnall Gleeson – Irish born son of Brendan Gleeson – has grown as has Eilis and brings what she never thought she could have back in Ireland. Their dynamic brings a nervous tension through happiness while we attempt to play Jiminy Cricket from our theater seats. Once you get that chance to leave the theater, you are going to feel a rejuvenation of the blue-collar ethic that helped this country run and it gives us one of the most heartwarming stories of love, hard work, and family as it should be told, through an immigrant’s eyes who had to fight her way to finding out where home truly was.