Directed by John Crowley | Written by Nick Hornby, adapting a Colm Toibin novel | 111 min | Netflix | ▲▲▲▲△
Saoirse Ronan is on point as Ellis, the young woman who in John Crowley’s 1950’s-set diasporic drama travels from rural Ireland to Brooklyn, New York for a new life, and inevitably, first love. This is an unabashedly romantic yarn, one that trades in a currency of weepy looks, swelling strings, and straight-ahead storytelling. But it’s also patently earnest, thoughtful, and moving. It avoids any danger of the maudlin by Hornby’s sharp script, spliced with a subtle but consistent humour, and Ronan’s typically A-Grade chops.
It’s Ellis’ sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott), who encourages her to go west, leaving her and their mother. With the sponsorship help of a friendly Irish priest (Jim Broadbent),Ellis survives a traumatic Atlantic sea crossing in a windowless cabin. Taking work at a New York upscale department store (managed by Jessica Paré—the Irish/UK/Canada co-pro means Montreal locations and actors), she lives in a boarding house for women on Clinton Street run by Julie Walters. And that’s where many of the film’s best moments take place, whether the chucklesome asides at the dining room table with the various tenants, or in a moment of truth between two in an upstairs bathroom.
That’s what Brooklyn really has going for it: moments of perfectly modulated tone. Whether it’s Ellis’ homesickness, her growing joy and appreciation of the trees in spring wrapping the Brooklyn brownstones in green, or the utterly charming chemistry between her and her Italian beau, Tony (Emory Cohen).
When tragedy forces Ellis to return to Ireland, it’s a little confusing as to why she doesn’t reveal to her friends and family that she has a love back in New York, but if that’s a slight plot issue, it doesn’t spoil the aching sweetness of what happens when she starts to receive the attentions of a hometown fella, Domhnhall Gleeson’s Jim.
Don’t get me wrong, much of the emotional terrain Brooklyn delivers is the usual purview of British TV period dramas, but even amongst those this would stand out for its sterling lyricism. And there’s simply no way Ronan will be ignored at awards time. People are calling her the best actor of her generation, and that work is all here to see.
Brooklyn opens in Halifax on Friday, December 11, 2015