Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Heartfelt ‘Brooklyn’ is terrific 1950’s love story linking Ireland and USA

By Steve Crum
Brooklyn is a nostalgic, funny, sad, and overall heartfelt drama of a young Irish lass who emigrates to New York City during the 1950’s. Central to the story’s theme are love, family and homesickness, ingredients perfectly blended and served by director John Crowley. Nick Hornby adapted the screenplay, based on Colm Tóbín’s novel of the same name. What a truly lovely film. 
This is the first mainstream feature by Crowley, even though Brooklyn will no doubt be exhibited exclusively in so-called art houses as it opens today. It really should be seen by everyone, even though the cast lacks general name recognition. Its leading stars, Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen, are recognizable if not by name. Ronan began as a child actress, garnering praise for her work in Atonement and The Lovely Bones. Cohen’s background is notably in the cast of TV’s Smash. They both turn in Oscar worthy performances here. Cohen is very reminiscent of a young James Dean or Marlon Brando. 
The two name actors in Brooklyn are both splendid here in supporting roles: Jim Broadbent (Topsy-Turvy) and Julie Walters (Educating Rita). Broadbent plays the Irish Catholic priest, Father Flood, and Walters is Mrs. Kehoe, the landlady of the boarding house in Brooklyn where Ronan’s Eilis Lacey stays. 
Then there is Domhnall Gleeson as Eilis’ later day suitor, Jim Farrell. Gleeson is second billed, probably because he gained famed by portraying Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter series. This is not saying he is not fine in Brooklyn, but second billing is a stretch, considering the breadth of his role. Far more deserving is the terrific turn by Emory Cohen. 
The plot is simplistic but layered. Ellis Lacey (Ronan) reluctantly follows her sister Rose’s advice to venture from their Irish village to America to pursue a substantial career. We later occasionally see Rose (Fiona Glascott) when the two are reading each other’s letters. Occurrences on board the ship transporting Eilis show how naive about life she is. But she befriends an experienced shipmate who clues her in on expectations and how to survive homesickness. “Sometimes it’s nice to talk to people who don’t know your auntie,” she tells Eilis. Like many small towns then and now, her town in Ireland has a gossip mentality.
Incidentally, Eilis’s processing scene at Ellis Island pleasantly grabbed me. It is rather refreshing to witness immigrants being politely and expediently welcomed to the USA. 
The Catholic Church has planned her travel and settlement venue, including an Irish-American boarding house for young Irish ladies. The local priest has even paid the tuition for Eilis’s night school so she can become a bookkeeper. Eilis works days at a department store, and her life is controlled if not mundane. Then she meets a young man, who is Italian-American. The story proceeds from there, including a third act when Eilis has to return home to Ireland for an emergency. Life altering decisions ensue.
There are so many fine period and cultural touches in Brooklyn, from set design and clothing to mores about dating, church dances, and family loyalty. 
Above all, Brooklyn is a love story about two very likable, deserving souls.

GRADE on an A-F Scale: A