Movie Review: Brooklyn

Saoirse Ronan is an Irish immigrant in 1950s New York City in this gentle, good-natured, Oscar-nominated drama



Directed by John Crowley. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Julie Walters, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Jenn Murray, Emily Bett Rickards, Michael Zegen, Paulino Nunes, Nora-Jane Noone, Eva Birthistle, Fiona Glascott, Alain Goulem, Jessica Paré, Eileen O’Higgins, Denis Conway. Written by Nick Hornby, from the book by Colm Toibin.

An Irish immigrant is torn between her new life in New York City and family back home in Brooklyn, a (mostly) sweet and good-natured piece of old-fashioned filmmaking from director John Crowley (Intermission) and writer Nick Hornby (High Fidelity), adapting the source novel by Colm Toibin.

Saoirse Ronan stars as Ellis Lacey, a young woman who lives in a sleepy southern Irish town with her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) and mother (Jane Brennan). But her life is about to change when Rose arranges for her to travel to and live in New York in search of something grander.

Set in the 1950s, Brooklyn takes place a little later than the usual turn-of-the-century Irish immigrant tales; still, Ellis hits some familiar terrain on her way to New York City, including an ocean voyage filled with seasickness where she meets some helpful passengers and a first stop at Ellis Island.

In the titular NYC district, Ellis adjusts to life at a boarding house headed by Madge Kehoe (Julie Walters) while working at a department store under a supervisor played by Mad Men’s Jessica Paré.

But it’s a slow adjustment: Ellis keeps to herself and doesn’t really fit in with the others, even the fellow Irish girls at the boarding house. She also feels incredibly homesick after receiving letters from her sister that details the goings-on back in Ireland.

But Ellis gets some help from a benevolent priest (Jim Broadbent) and starts studying at night school. And things really begin to change when Ellis gains the affections of a young Italian-American man (Emory Cohen).

There’s a sweetness and gentle nature throughout Brooklyn that permeates through the screen. The subtle, nuanced work detailing Ellis’ adjustment to life in New York, which comprises the midsection of the movie, is affectionate and appealing and relatable to anyone who has found themselves a stranger in a strange land.

The film’s final third finds Ellis torn between life in her new home versus life in her old one, and it’s an especially resonant theme given the subject matter.

I only take one major issue with the film: the portrayal of Ellis’ Irish boss Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan), a too-easy villain for a movie in no need of one. She forces the script’s hand, and takes away an important decision that should have been left for the central character to make.

Brooklyn’s PG-13 rating places it in the same realm of destruction-laden superhero movies, but this is the kind of genuinely good-natured film that they simply don’t make enough of any more. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a pleasure to see this kind of movie get a wide release and awards-season recognition.

A low-key, small-scale affair, Brooklyn was perhaps a surprise addition to the 2015 awards-season slate. The film received three Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, but took home none. 

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