Friday, December 25, 2015

Movie Review: "Brooklyn"

Sometimes you see a movie or read a book which utterly charms you so much, that one of the most apropos words you can use to describe it is "lovely," and that is not disparaging in any way. Brooklyn is such a movie—it's charming and beautiful and it worms its way into your heart without your even realizing it.

In the early 1950s, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is growing up in Ireland, living a less-than-remarkable life. Even though she's smart she can't find a job beyond working as a shop clerk, and there doesn't appear to be much opportunity on the romantic front as well, so her older sister arranges for Eilis to go to America, and she'll have a job and a place to stay lined up. But life in Brooklyn, even among countless Irish immigrants, is tremendously lonely, and all she can think about is going home.

Little by little she becomes more acclimated to her new home, and is enrolled in bookkeeping classes. And while at an Irish dance, she meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen)—he's not quite the Irish lad she envisioned, but his attentiveness, affection, and enthusiasm for the future he has envisioned for them helps her to fall for him rather quickly. As she tells her sister in her letters home, she finally feels at home all the way across the ocean.

When tragedy strikes, and Eilis plans to return home to Ireland for a month, she must make some crucial decisions about Tony. And as she settles back in to her old life, she suddenly realizes that there are opportunities in Ireland for her as well, and that her home isn't really as small and provincial as she once thought. But as she grows more comfortable back home, and plans for her future should she stay begin taking shape, she must decide once and for all on which shore she belongs—and whether she should take control of her own life or allow it to be controlled as it always has been.

On the surface, this seems like a fairly simple story, but it is full of complex emotions, difficult decisions, and the thrill of watching someone blossom in their life for the first time. Ronan's performance is tremendous—sensitive yet strong, brave yet giddy, and truly moving. You may not agree with the decisions she makes, but you see how difficult her decisions are, and you may wonder how you might react if you were a 1950s woman torn between life in the home you've always known and life in the home you've built for yourself.

Cohen isn't the strongest actor (although he's better than he was on Smash, where he played Debra Messing's petulant son), but his charm is infectious, and you can see why Eilis would be attracted to him aside from his looks. Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent, as two adults Eilis turns to in America, turn in charming performances within the small roles they're given.

In the end, this is Ronan's film. She's come a long way from the petulant troublemaker she played in Atonement, which earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod back in 2007. This is a fully mature and complex performance, once which has caught the attention of a number of film critics' groups, and is expected to earn her a Best Actress nod next month. This movie will make you cry, laugh, and smile—sometimes all at once. And how can you ask for more?

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