“[I]ntriguing and layered…”

by Steve Pulaski

Young love is one of the most beautiful things when it’s working, but one of the ugliest things when it’s suffering or stunted by circumstance. I’ve personally known friends in high school in serious relationships that spanned more than four or five years and that always hits me hard. At that age, cutting and running when things get tough is almost too easy, leaving your dirty laundry as a burden with someone you formerly had feeling for so another person can air it out, and the person in question can suffer more and trust less. When I see a relationship isn’t bound by the law of marriage and is held together by emotional honesty and incorruptible loyalty from both parties, it is one of the most inspiring things for myself.

When the two main characters in Brooklyn are in love, or at least infatuated with one another, it is some of the most romantic moments in film I’ve seen all year. But when things between the two leads become cloudy and uncertain, it is some of the saddest moments in film I’ve seen all year.

Such is young love, especially when you’re a woman who calls two places, with one being in the United States and the other being across the Atlantic Ocean, home. The film revolves around Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) in 1952, a young Irish girl who leaves behind Ireland for a better future in Brooklyn per the demands of her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott). After a miserable train ride involving sickness, diarrhea, and discomfort, Eilis arrives in the land of opportunities. In the meantime, she lives in a boarding house, works in an expensive jewelry store to earn pocket money, and attends a nightly bookkeeping class.

Directed by
John Crowley
Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson
Release Date
4 November 2015
Steve’s Grade: B+

Soon enough, Eilis meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), a young Italian boy, at an Irish dance. Tony attends these dances because he has an insatiable desire for Irish girls and Eilis catches his eye right away. With that, the two wind up hanging out, going on dates, and eventually dating, despite the general stereotype of the friction between the Irish and Italians. Everything is going smoothly until Eilis is forced to go back home to Ireland for a brief time, forcing to leave Tony behind and tempted by the wealth of cushy dating and employment opportunities back home where she is closer to family.

While Brooklyn has its fair share of emotionally manipulative sequences, mainly because the film’s score is frequently overbearing and excessive, its nuances and insights into young love and how one person can almost entirely make one’s fears and uncertainties about an area and their situation simply evaporate are considerably powerful. The scenes between Eilis and Tony are undeniably romantic and not overblown or incredulously depicted, as they are in your run-of-the-mill Nicholas Sparks novel. The two exude a very natural chemistry that is buoyed by their innocence and their clearly authentic smiles and affection for one another; to put it simply, if you’re single and seeing this film alone, as I did, you’ll be wishing you are walking out with someone special by your side at the end of it.

Writer Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) and director John Crowley also show a considerable amount of restraint in terms of evoking comedic circumstances in the film. Consider the scene when Eilis sits down to meet Tony’s full-blooded Italian family over a spaghetti dinner, a scene ripe for stale comedic possibilities about the passive-aggressiveness Italians had towards Irish people and vice-versa. Instead, Hornby conducts the scene in a manner that’s thoroughly pleasant and even wryly comedic at times, thanks to great timing and strong respect for logic and narrative seriousness.

Saoirse Ronan, who has arguably gone from paying her dues in overwrought and unbearable films like The Host and The Lovely Bones, really commands the screen here largely due to her character’s commonality and her natural, radiant presence. Ronan reminds of Jennifer Lawrence, specifically in American Hustle, largely because her appearance, acting talents, and personality seem to echo a woman much older and more experienced than herself. This isn’t necessarily the easiest role for any actor, as it requires the right amount of communication in the way of alienation, romance, and uncertainty, yet Ronan doesn’t seem too fazed to mind or slip up.

Brooklyn is a timely film in many respects, largely because the issue of immigration and acceptance of different races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds aren’t getting minimized any time soon, and the ideas of young love and handling complex emotions without prior experience are intriguing and layered concepts to profile on film. For a romance as simple as this one, it certainly has more complicated layers that do not take a backseat in the way of schmaltz. If modern romance films wanted to be half as interesting as most of them are, they’d assume a style and level of sustenance, whilst simultaneously remaining true to their genre, as Brooklyn.