Gentle view of an Irish-American migrant experience

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Brooklyn (M). Director: John Crowley. Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Fiona Glascott, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson. 112 minutes

Brooklyn wears on its face the kind of winning simplicity that can only be the result of carefully crafted and highly skilled storytelling. Irish director Crowley's gently absorbing account — founded on a Nick Hornby screenplay adapted from a Colm Tóibín novel — of a young provincial Irish woman's coming of age in 1952 New York is nothing if not easy to like. At its best it touches profundity.

Ronan plays Eilis Lacey who, with the prompting of her elder sister Rose (Glascott), leaves her hometown of Enniscorthy in County Wexford to forge a new life and pursue new possibilities in faraway America. With the support of a kindly priest, Fr Flood (Broadbent), she obtains accommodation in a boarding house run by a conservative landlady (Walters) and a job in a department store.

The film, as is its wont, peers rather than probes at the immigrant experience. Eilis' profound homesickness is evoked by the letters she composes for and receives from her long distant sister and mother. Her sense of awe at this new world is revealed in her interactions with the other, more brazen boarders; and at work, where she is chided by her manager for being too shy with customers.

Gradually, familiarity and opportunity allow her to grow in confidence. With Fr Flood's help, she takes a night course in bookkeeping, and finds an affinity for it. She attracts the attention of a young Italian plumber, Tony (Cohen); her status as a self-agent is underscored by the way she takes control of the parameters of their budding romance. In all this, Ronan's performance is subtle and deeply felt.

In fact Eilis' coming-of-age can be defined as gradual self-empowerment through the making of small, and sometimes large, choices. When circumstances require her to travel home, she remembers that her new life is not really a new life, but is part of a continuum with the old; what's more, there now are possibilities for her in Enniscorthy that previously were not there, or were hidden from her.

Among these is Jim Farrell (Gleeson), who she remembers as the equivalent of a jock but who is now the town's most eligible bachelor. He challenges her prejudices about her former provincial lifestyle, and embodies the choice she now finds herself facing between two very different futures. Either choice will cause pain, to herself and to others. But it's her choice to make. And that's the point.

 


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Brooklyn, John Crowley, Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson

 

 

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What is it about these early 1950's movies? I very recently went to see "Carol" and loved it. Now, there's "Brooklyn". It's a story originally written by Colm Toibin so it's sure to be a winner! This young woman's journey and choice is hers to make, a significant achievement for a female in the early 1950's.
Pam | 17 February 2016


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