It’s been a long time since I fell in love with a movie, 34 years to be exact, and the movie was the Oscar Award-winning Chariots of Fire. Based on real events and people, it was a film that told a story, yes, but a story that swept you up in its characters, a group of young men who reached for something beyond themselves.
And now I’ve fallen in love with 2015’s Brooklyn.
I didn’t think film producers made movies like this anymore. Brooklyn is a love story, a coming-of-age story, an immigrant’s story, and the story of a young woman who’s making her world in the world. If it included a subtle or not-so-subtle political or social message, a feature of many movies today that tends to make them something less than what they could be, then I missed it.
It is 1951. Eilis Lacey (played by actress Saorise Ronan) lives in a small town in Ireland. She has a part-time job (on Sunday mornings) with an obnoxious shopkeeper. Her older sister Rose has an office job – a well-paying job difficult to find early 1950s Ireland. To find work, young people go to England, or to America. Rose decides that Eilis should go to America. Irish have been going to America for more than a century, there is a large Irish community in New York, and America has opportunities that Ireland does not.
Father Flood (played by veteran actor Jim Broadbent), a Catholic priest in Brooklyn, helps make the arrangements. He finds a place for Eilis to live and a job at a Brooklyn department store. And so Eilis books third-class passage on an ocean liner for New York, which includes her first introduction to seasickness.
She moves into a boarding house run by Mrs. Kehoe, played to perfection by actress Julie Walters. She begins her job and discovers homesickness, for which Father Flood has a partial cure: enrolling at Brooklyn College to learn bookkeeping and accounting and helping with the Christmas dinner for the homeless at the church. He also convinces her to come to the parish dance, and it is there she meets Tony Fiorello (actor Emory Cohen), a young Italian plumber who likes Irish girls and takes a special interest in Eilis. He walks her home, he invites her out to eat and then to a movie, and begins to wait for her when her college class lets out so he can continue to walk her home. So begins a tender, innocent love story.
But events force Eilis to return, if temporarily, to Ireland. And the question becomes whether she will return to America. And that’s the hinge for the movie – what Eilis will choose to do.
The movie is based on the 2009 novel of the same title by Irish writer Colm Toibin. Differences exist between the two, of course, and some significant; the book includes three brothers for Eilis and Rose who are never mentioned in the movie, and it’s the brothers who pay for the passage to America. But the movie does generally follow the story line of the novel (including, I should note, one scene that is fairly graphic in the book and less-than-graphic in the movie).
Brooklyn has no poor or even mediocre performances; all of the actors shine, from the woman who helps Eilis on the boat trip to the fellow lodgers at the boarding house and Miss Rontini, the supervisor at the department store. Ronan and Cohen impress, as Eilis and Danny, with Ronan’s facial and eye expression a wonder to behold and Cohen giving Danny a completely believable air of innocence and vulnerability.
As we left the movie, I told my wife that I was already putting Brooklyn on my mental favorites list, and likely my Top 5 favorite movies list. It is a singularly un-self-conscious movie; it tells the story it has to tell and we walk away feeling the richer for it.
‘Brooklyn’ Chronicles the Heartache of the Irish-American Immigrant Experience – NPR talks with director John Crowley and actress Saorise Ronan.
The movie trailer:
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