dir. John Crowley
written by: Nick Hornby
starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domnhall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters
3.5 out of 4 stars
I recently read Colm Toibin’s 2009 novel Brooklyn about a young Irish immigrant in post-war New York City in preparation for the upcoming movie. Thoroughly underwhelmed by the romance and loneliness plotline, my expectations were minimal despite favorable word from critics reviews out of festivals early this year. The story of Eilis (Ay-lish) moving across the Atlantic has been a consistent bestseller for years, and where the novel is made for adaptation, I anticipated some of the more irritating aspects of the story to muck up a charming plot. I have been rightfully pleased.
Screenwriter Nick Hornby, whose own novels have left me similarly wanting, continues his streak of strong screenwriting following last year’s Wild and his previous Oscar nomination for An Education. Expect to see his name amongst the nominations, and possibly as the winner, for this faithful but enlightened story of a timid girl becoming a confident woman as she strikes out into a new world. It seems Hornby had many of the reactions I did from his read, as the offputting or needless portions of the book were trimmed. We are left with a handsome tale of young love, finding one’s place in the world amongst the pressure of family and heritage, and the acceptance of one’s self. The character’s are fully fledged, and minor characters from the book are given intriguing characterizations.
Adding to the exceptional script is the fantastic direction. John Crowley, escaping the disappointment from his last movie Closed Circuit, proves talent at accentuating his actors’ performances and maintaining a touchingly period yet modernly engaging movie. With the rapidly evolving relationship between Elias and her New York identity, Crowley leads this role from shakingly uncertain to strong womanhood. Framing the film with gorgeous lighting and notable closeups, aided by the talented cinematographer Yves Bélanger, also of Wild notability, his movie is crafted and smoothed into another example of exceeding an original work, a popular theme this year.
Eilis is played by the now grownup Saoirse Ronan, best known for her Oscar nominated performance in Atonement, using those same stunning, captivating eyes to express every emotion in her very emotional journey. Nuanced and spirited, Ronan’s Eilis begins the movie as a meek sister in an Irish small town, full of individuals inexperienced in the world, and ends as a confident woman taking hold of her business. She shines in her hesitance and devotion, attempting to be the good Irish Catholic girl and the blossoming woman, wanting to impress all around. Most impressively, her transition is seamless; there is no breakthrough moment, but she finds development within her character. Just wait for her final scene, culminating from her rollercoaster of a year; it’s breathtaking confidence and concern speaks volumes for her character.
Surrounding our lead is a handsome cast. Love interest and breakout Emory Cohen’s Tony is a jovial, passionate compliment to the thoughful Eilis. All smiles, he’s the boyfriend all the boarders envy. On a more subtle note is Eilis’s suitor Jim Farrell, played by Domnhall Gleeson, capping one hell of a year. During a return visit to Ireland, Gleeson becomes to “civilized” counterpart to the slapdash world Eilis has come to experience in her new world. Placed with dialogue befitting the rugby club gentleman, one swoons in a much different aspect for this hopeful romantic.
Outside of Eilis’s love life, her New York circle is full of strong performances. Her sponsor Father Flood and landlady Mrs Keogh, played by Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters, respectively, are supportive figures with expectedly strong performances. Necessary and warm, Broadbent is a kindly priest who comes around for Eilis’s guidance. Walters is tough yet caring as Mrs Keogh, a strong adaptation from my favorite character in the book. Also notable in a too small role is Eilis’s supervisor played by Jessica Pare. What could be a forgettable role turns into a fun, almost girlfriend role for a relationship that would be rather single note.
Wrapped in gorgeous sets and surrounded by colorful costumes by Odile Dicks-Mireaux, both begging for awards attention, Brooklyn is a romance but surrounded by a strong character, focused on becoming her own person, rather than continuing to follows the plans of everyone around her. The strong screenplay and precise direction aid the nuanced performances to create an all around beautiful film. Provided further examples, I may suggest Hornby abandon novels and permanently seek screenwriting employment.