Father Flood: Anyway, we need Irish girls in Brooklyn…
Eilis: Wish I could stop feeling that I want to be an Irish girl in Ireland.
Father Flood: All I can say is that it will pass. Homesickness is like most sicknesses. It will make you feel wretched, then will move on to somebody else…
Who says size matters? This may be a small film, but it has a huge heart. Brooklyn is the tale of a young Irish girl in County Wexford, circa the early 1950’s. She wants more out of life than what she has there. The small town of Enniscorthy offered provincialism, gossip, dreary small lanes, and a lack of opportunity and all of those were wearing her down.
Eilis worked just two hours a week, on Sunday mornings at Ms Kelly’s Bakery. Besides that being her only employment, Eilis had to deal with Kelly who was a cold-hearted and spiteful woman. So immediately you knew that this young woman, Eilis Lacey wanted more from life.
Her Dad has passed on a decade ago, and Eilis (pronounced as Ailish), her older sister Rose, and her Mom, were all the family that remained.
Rose, wanting her younger sister to have the life she’d never have, contacted a priest in Brooklyn who had roots in the same Irish town. He would sponsor Eilis to come to America and when she did she’d have more than just having her feet on American soil. He would be able to arrange housing in a respectable boarding house for Catholic girls, and secure a job in a downtown upscale Brooklyn department store for young Eilis.
The thing of it is, that by boarding a steamship bound for New York, Eilis would be leaving her family, possibly forever. And when the day of departure came, the faces we saw on the dockside and the steamship represented the contrasting two sides of one event – the happy and cheerful faces of those looking down from ship’s decks, and the tearful and sad faces of those who remained.
Eilis’s journey begins with an initially rough crossing of the Atlantic. Cramped quarters and shared bathrooms, often unfairly locked, when added to sea-sickness can almost take the joy out of a new beginning for anyone. But Eilis was fortunate to have a savvy and experienced woman traveler sharing her room. With plenty of advice, both sage and sound, the crossing went far better as it went ahead than when it began.
Immigration Official: Exit through that blue door Miss. Welcome to the United States.
Eilis is played by Saoirse Ronan. Her performance as a homesick immigrant, a young woman coming of age, and as a stranger on American shores, is just spectacular.
As you watch, Eilis has to deal with the banter of the girls at Mrs. Kehoe’s boarding house, a stern and demanding boss (Jessica Pare from Mad Men has this role) at Bartoccis Department Store, and the near overwhelming size and numbers of people in Brooklyn all while dealing with the inner turmoil stemming from having left loved ones behind.
Remember, this is a small town girl who did not arrive already well-schooled in how to survive, (and hopefully succeed) in the melting pot we know as New York.
Yes, we can agree that this is not a new story – but as directed by John Crowley, working with a Nick Hornsby screenplay based on an award-winning novel by Colm Toibin – the immigrant story wrapped around the coming of age story – has never been done better.
But it is not just Ronan’s Eilis that makes this film work so well. Watch for sterling performances from Jim Broadbent as the benevolent priest, Father Flood,
and Julie Waters
as the wise cracking land-lady and house-mother of the Brooklyn Heights boarding house for young Irish women where Eilis now resides.
Then there’s Emory Cohen as Eilis’s love interest in the new world. He plays Tony Fiorello, the son of Italian immigrants. While Cohen’s Tony is a bit shorter than Ronan’s Eilis – you can’t avoid noticing this – it won’t affect the chemistry between these two.
Domhnall Gleeson plays Jim Farrell, a well-to-do boy in Ireland. When misfortune requires Eilis to return to Ireland for a short stay, she will meet this Farrell. As Eilis’s mother will say – Farrell will make a fine catch for any woman.
So even though we can see this coming from the very first moment Gleeson’s Farrell appears on-screen – we are helpless as we get caught up while watching Eilis’s swirling emotional struggle over this problem.
Two countries, two loves, one heart.
The film doesn’t spend a lot of money recreating Brooklyn in the early 50’s, Most of the film has interior shooting, or night scenes in the Brooklyn segments – but the cars and the clothes look just right. The Ireland scenes were shot on location in Enniscorthy, which worked to the film’s advantage.
Summing up, you’ve got a likely Oscar nominated performance by Ronan who is so marvelous to watch. An excellent supporting cast, and some fine cinematography by Yves Belanger, who has chosen a soft palette for this film. He’s done a good number of close-ups which means the lighting is a primary concern, and he hasn’t missed.
This was the second film I saw on Day Four of the Twin Cities Film Festival, and this one had a packed house and received a marvelous ovation as the credits rolled. It is easy for me declare this film a must see for anyone wanting to watch a story unfold that all of us can relate to. Arriving in a new place, and coming of age are never achieved without some struggles. And almost all of us have experienced this first hand or know some one who has.
Brooklyn brings you a familiar story, and opens its arms to welcome you to it. Four point five out of five, and highly recommended.
Check out the trailer: