Austin Film Festival Review: Brooklyn (2015)

by Elizabeth Stoddard

Brooklyn (2015) is the full package: immigration narrative, love story, and coming-of-age tale all in one. Opportunities for work and romance in her home country are limited and Eilis, an Irish girl in her late teens impeccably played by Saoirse Ronan, has found a way out. Through her sister Rose’s connections, she has a job and a place to live in America.

Given her young age and limited travel experience, our heroine makes naive decisions on the journey over until her bunkmate on the ship pities her and doles out advice. Brooklyn is filled with others who advise Eilis, from her boarding-housemates (including one Emily Bett Rickards, aka Felicity Smoak from Arrow) to her landlady Mrs. Kehoe (flawless Julie Walters) to her sponsor Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) and her manager at the department store (Jessica Paré). And those are just the ones on this side of the Atlantic!

To combat Eilis’ deep homesickness after leaving her elder sister (Fiona Glascott) and mother (Jane Brennan) across the ocean, Father Flood signs her up for bookkeeping classes. Her time in New York gives her confidence and she falls for sweet Italian-American plumber Tony (Emory Cohen). Unexpected tragedy sends her back to Ireland, and Eilis has to decide whether to stick with the familiar — where there is now a possible love interest (Domhnall Gleason) and available bookkeeping position — or go back to the home she made in Brooklyn.

What could appear on the surface as a choice between two men is really something deeper here. Eilis is torn between family duty and societal expectations for daughters in Ireland and the sort of independence she has found in Brooklyn. Either way, in this 1950s setting, she’ll be married sooner or later. Whether the man she marries will condone her continuing to work outside the home is left unresolved.

Ronan’s wide eyes pop on-screen, especially in the 1950’s costuming of the film. As her character becomes more accustomed to American style, her hair is less unkempt. There’s a beautiful color scheme to Brooklyn. It’s not as stylized as a Sirk film, but it certainly shows his influence. As Eilis stands in front of painted doors, her outfit or eyes are color-coordinated with the color of the doorway. Such consideration and attention to detail go towards the look of Brooklyn.

The scoring by Michael Brook has a sentimental air without being schmaltzy. Nick Hornby’s screenplay — based on Colm Tóibín’s novel — is full of heart, making the viewer laugh out loud more often than reach for kleenex (I did both). Brooklyn leaves some questions about Eilis’ future unanswered, but stylistically, structurally and as far as the acting is concerned, this film deserves any of the awards buzz it’s already getting.

Additional note: Brooklyn is the second film I’ve seen in recent weeks (Room is the other) which made audiences respond multiple times in unison. One moment during Eilis’ return home caused the audience at the Paramount to loudly gasp — and then a few people immediately giggled at their own reaction.

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