I'm a "read the book first" person. I've considered Colm Tóibín's novel Brooklyn on many a bookstore table and always passed it up, but when I had a chance to see the film version last week I took it. I'm really glad I did.
Brooklyn is a beautiful film. Everything is achingly pretty -- the people, the scenery, the music. Ireland's sea views are perfect. Brooklyn looks like a midcentury postcard. "Sweeping" is an overused film review word, but it keeps coming to mind, so "sweeping" it is. Brooklyn is a look at the life of an Irish girl who comes to the United States in the 1950s, sponsored by an Irish priest familiar with her potential to succeed in ways she could not if she stayed home. Nick Hornby wrote a sweet screenplay, lighter on the sharp-edged British humor than usual, a walking meditation of sorts on the enormous decision to leave everything familiar and start completely new, and to want to run back immediately, until you don't. Note: Prepare to cry, if that's a thing for you. The only thing that made my constant lapses into weeping a little less awkward was the fact that the man next to me beat me to the punch every single time. Let it out, man. I get it.
Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis, and she brings her to life in the most earnest and quietly tortured way that I was rooting for her from the first scenes, worried about her in the middle, and there with her as she accomplished some sort of old soul coming of age.
And home is the core theme and the setting here--in its physical, cultural, familial, and emotional senses. Why on earth would you leave it, except sometimes, how can you not? And once you do, how do you go back? There is a sweet love story (and a half) at the center here, but while I loved Emory Cohen's gentle Italian suitor Tony so much and delusionally wished he were real right now in 2015, Brooklyn was so much more about Eilis in the end. Familial and friend relationships between women are key to the story, too--Eilis's mother and sister, her friends in Ireland and the U.S., and the women in her boarding house. Competition and social hierarchies, the strains and expectations of mother/daughter relationships with a sister thrown in for some triangulation, women in the workplace and the church -- it's all here. Julie Walters is delightful as house mother and arbiter of justice Mrs. Kehoe, and the scenes around her dinner table are a Hornby-esque highlight.
The ending is tidy enough for people who like that sort of thing, and the acting compelling and sympathetic enough from all angles that it's as difficult for a viewer to see Eilis's way clear at a critical point as it is for her. What should she do? What will she do? And what can she live with? Brooklyn drew me into that story well enough to keep me hooked until the end.
This Brooklyn featurette considers Eilis among the mid-20th Century wave of Irish emigration, and what that means for the film.
Find a theater playing Brooklyn near you.
Watch the Brooklyn trailer, and go see it! It opens tomorrow and will be around for Thanksgiving break viewing.
This post is made possible by support from Fox Searchlight Pictures. All opinions are my own.