Every now and again, a film comes along that is so delicately crafted that it reminds you that cinema is an art form, rather than simply a vehicle for aging celebrities to nab a paycheck. John Crowley’s (Intermission, Closed Circuit) love letter to his homeland is one of those rare and treasured films.
Brooklyn feels as timeless as the movies it celebrates, shedding new light on the tumultuous experience of an Irish immigrant in the 1950’s. Somehow, the film is able to simultaneously feel like a sweeping epic and an artsy passion project.
Brooklyn follows Ellis Lacey (in a game-changing performance by Saoirse Ronan) as she leaves her family in search of a prosperous life in America. She moves into a boarding house full of other immigrants from the Emerald Isle run by Madge Kehoe (played by a delightfully sassy Julie Walters).
It isn’t long before a dashing lad (Emory Cohen) sweeps her off her feet, but can their love withstand the strain of Ellis returning to Ireland? It is a story that could easily become generic and bland, but the wit and charisma of the script and players transforms this 20th century period piece into a delightful classic that is sure to stand alongside the year’s best efforts.
Historical films can often feel overly melodramatic, but Brooklyn uses this to its advantage. This is a captivating story, building on reality with a tale of love and loss, much like Titanic. It is difficult to convey a realistic romance over the course of any film, but the chemistry of the performers and the honesty of the script make it work in this case.
Ellis and Tony’s courtship is very much a testament to a romanticised era of revelry and mannered rituals, and every bit of it feels authentic. Neither character understands the customs of the other, so they are forced to find an awkwardly sweet middle ground.
While there are many aspects of this film to swoon over, it is difficult to put any of them before the lovely performance by the lead actress. With her shy charm and entrancing sentimentality, Saoirse Ronan is sure to give Cate Blanchett a run for her money as the award season begins to unfold. She is a vital piece of an already devastatingly remarkable film.
Ronan has fostered appreciation for previous roles, but this is the one that will bring her respect. Her performance is invigoratingly regal and profoundly aware of her vast capabilities as an actor.
The stunning visuals, thanks to Yves Bélanger’s (Dallas Buyers Club) unbelievably vibrant cinematography, make Brooklyn feel as though it is an impressionist painting. The colors pop out in a way that is reminiscent of Spike Jonze’s Her, however they are drawn from a more realistic pastel scheme.
Pinks, greens, and yellows become more than just an exciting aesthetic or a gimmick of a framing device: they set the entire tone for the course of the movie. Each image from the film could stand alone as its own work of art. The color pallet takes center stage as it categorizes emotional flexibility from one scene to another.
To call this treatment an improvement on its source material would take too much credit away from Colm Tóibín’s fabulous novel, but Nick Hornby’s script gracefully captures all of both the humor and anguish of its inspiration. The dialogue is of the heightened reality that calls to mind that of the Golden Age of Hollywood, demanding (and receiving) both laughs and tears from the audience. While there are drastic tonal shifts throughout Brooklyn, Hornby is able to navigate them in a way that doesn’t diminish either extreme.
As Ellis adjusts to life in her new home, the struggles of Irish newcomers are not exaggerated, but the film also doesn’t shy away from the hardships of leaving your comfort zone. For this reason, Brooklyn is almost unbearably relatable to people of all walks of life.
Ellis has a connection to two cultures, and she must embrace one without completely losing the other. Both options (suitors, countries, traditions) seem to be evenly balanced, with each being both appealing and terrifying in the face of the alternative. She is torn between worlds, and we are with her every step of the way.
There was a noticeably intense reaction following the screening of the movie at the Chicago International Film Festival. Even with films such as Carol and Spotlight following, many patrons were remarking that this was their favorite piece at the festival.
Brooklyn was heartfelt and sincere, and it drew people in, even when its premise veered dangerously close to soap opera territory. With all of the players bringing their masterful dedication to the shoot (and all of these talents meshing seamlessly together), this is a film that with justifiably earn its way into the hearts of cinema lovers for many years to come.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Author Bio: Brian Thompson currently resides in Chicago, where you can find him watching a matinee at Music Box or enjoying a book in the park. He also enjoys talking about movies on his blog: https://southernfilmcritic.wordpress.com/.