The majestic adaptation of Colm Tóibín's acclaimed and hugely popular 2009 novel, "Brooklyn" and its star, Saoirse Ronan, are poised to become major contenders this Oscar season. With a brilliant screenplay by Nick Hornby ("Wild", "An Education") and skilled direction by John Crowley, this engaging story of a young Irish woman's immigration to Brooklyn, New York in the early 1950's, is a memorable movie-going experience.
Eilis Lacey (Ronan) takes a bold step in her life, and accepts the offer of support from Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), who arranges for her transportation, new job and accommodations at a rooming house in Brooklyn, run by the formidable Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters).
Leaving behind her mother, Mary (Jane Brennan) and her elder, loving sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott), Eilis must navigate the strangeness of her new surroundings on her own --- until she meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen) at the Saturday night Irish dance. Tony comes from a big Italian family, but he has a penchant for Irish girls. He and Eilis fast become an item, until tragedy strikes at home, and Eilis must return to Ireland.
"Brooklyn" is one of those sweeping sagas. replete with stunning cinematography by Yves Belanger, near-perfect set designs by Francois Seguin, and a mesmerizing score by Michael Brook. All of these components are vital to the encompassing feel of an indelible film.
But, in the case of a movie such as "Brooklyn", the main character, Eilis, is paramount to its success, and Ronan is remarkable. She's not, perhaps, the astounding beauty that Elizabeth Taylor was at her age, but she possesses the same confidence that Taylor exuded in all of her roles. Ronan's quiet fierceness, intensity and sly wit imbue Eilis with the utmost humanity.
The single biggest disappointment for me in "Brooklyn" is the casting of Cohen as Tony. I read Tóibín's classic when it first appeared on bookshelves, and Cohen is not at all what I expected --- plus he's too short for Ronan. His performance is acceptable --- he manages the tender moments well enough --- but his chemistry with Ronan is lacking. It was the final scene of the film which disturbed me the most, but to go into too much detail would be unduly revealing.
Domnhall Gleeson plays Jim Farrell, Eilis' paramour when she returns to Ireland. His is a studied portrayal of a member of the upper class made more human by the love of a strong young woman. Their bond was a truly believable one.
Broadbent, Walters and the rooming house girls provide much of the humor and pathos. The scenes around the dinner table with Mrs. Kehoe are
telling --- and very entertaining. Walters is a gem, and Broadbent is consoling, and a constant, as the ever-faithful and dependable Catholic priest.
Whether it's the crowded beach at Coney Island or the deserted ocean front in Ireland, "Brooklyn" is sure to keep you engrossed from beginning to end.
Opinion: See It Now!
Thanks to a heartfelt romance between an Irish immigrant and her Italian American boyfriend, "Brooklyn" is one of those movies you hate to see end. Add a boatload of genuine humor --- our heroine crosses the Atlantic in a big one --- and even with our screening interrupted twice for technical glitches, the story is seamlessly presented.
In the best performance of her young career, Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, a pretty blue-eyed Irish redhead en route to America on a mission to improve her life. With living quarters and a job arranged by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), a friend of Eilis' sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), she finds herself in a department store in Brooklyn waiting on customers, and also takes night courses in bookkeeping.
Desperately homesick, missing her dear Rose and her widowed mother Mary (Jane Brennan), Father Flood provides the voice of reason, telling her it will soon pass. His words are prophetic when Eilis meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen) at an Irish dance, and suddenly her entire world is changed. While she eagerly anticipates news from home in long-awaited letters, anyone over the age of 30 can appreciate a missive from a friend or relative far away, given this age of instant communication.
Eilis sups nightly in her boarding house run by Mrs. Kehoe (the wonderful Julie Walters), along with a few other young women, and these scenes are among the most memorable in the film. To practice for a dinner date with Tony and his family, Eilis is coached on how to twirl spaghetti without splashing the tomato sauce. The ensuing meal turns laugh-out-loud funny with Tony's youngest brother Frankie (8 years old), played by James DiGiacomo, stealing the show.
When tragedy ensues and Eilis must return to Ireland, she meets another young man, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan). As in America, her life becomes very complicated, and we are swept up in her turmoil.
Based on the best-selling novel by Colm Tóibín, and written for the screen by Nick Hornby ("An Education", "Wild"). "Brooklyn" is intelligent, warm, funny and endearing. At the heart of the film are the sterling performances by Ronan and Cohen. Their fledgling flirtation grows into something much deeper, their chemistry is real, and we eagerly hang onto their every word, hoping for a happy ending. (Jeanne read the book, knowing what was to come, and she said the film is faithful to it.) It's the kind of romantic script that never gets sappy or melodramatic. The two young actors bring a sense of realism to their roles that belies their age and experience.
The entire supporting cast is marvelous. Fans of "Mad Men" will instantly recognize Jon Hamm's TV wife, Jessica Paré, who plays a manager in the department store where Eilis is employed. "Brooklyn" is directed by John Crowley, who won a BAFTA TV award for "Boy A" in 2008, starring Andrew Garfield. Veteran Canadian composer Michael Brooks provides a truly lovely score.
And speaking of music, early on, Eilis volunteers at a Christmas dinner for elderly Irish men in Brooklyn. When one of them stands up to sing a native folk song, it's symbolic of the touching and emotional rite of passage on which we are about to embark.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!