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A New Opportunity Awaits In Brooklyn

Updated on December 5, 2015

Leaving home can leave a person with both excitement and apprehension. A young woman is given the opportunity to make a life an ocean away from her home in Brooklyn. In early 1950s Ireland, Eilis Lacey (Saorise Ronan), who works for a local grocer, gets a chance to make a better life for herself in America, thanks to her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott). Rose uses her connections to Irish emigres to get her younger sister lodging, work, and a college education in Brooklyn, New York. Eilis lives in a boarding house owned by Mrs. Madge Kehoe (Julie Walters), who also accommodates five other women. The local parish priest, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), lets Eilis know about her department store job and her bookkeeping classes. At the store, she develops her people skills with the help of floor manager Miss Fortini (Jessica Pare), who also helps her with her fashion sense. At a church dance, she meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), who makes his living as a plumber, and the two grow close.

As their romance grows, Fr. Flood comes to the store with bad news. He has received word that Rose has died. While unable to return in time for the funeral, she takes time off from her work to provide support for her widowed mother (Jane Brennan). The return home coincides with the marriage of her childhood friend Nancy (Eileen O'Higgins). While in her native land, Eilis agrees to help Rose's former employer with their bookkeeping needs. Nancy also introduces Eilis to Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), an old acquaintance who'd once been engaged to someone else, but they decided to not marry. Eilis had not expected this development, nor did she expect to be approached by her old boss, Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan), about something Eilis had done before she left New York, but kept to herself.

Years ago, I saw Jim Sheridan's Irish immigrant drama In America, and I hold the film in high esteem. Brooklyn, based on the Colm Toibin novel, is even better. It's a beautiful ode to those who come stateside in search of a better life, and may or may not get it. Eilis comes with a job, shelter, and the chance to find a career instead of just a job. Yet, she also encounters many of the older Irish immigrants who need help with some basic needs. She also worries about the way those she knows in her native land will perceive the relationship between herself and Tony. The excellent screenplay adaptation comes from Nick Hornby, who's also known for novels such as High Fidelity and About A Boy. He captures the homesickness and the new discoveries with equal reverence. I'm not familiar with either the stage or screen work of director John Crowley, but here, he transports viewes to a time where leaving home for a new life was a much longer - and potentially unpleasant - process. In the course of the movie, he shows Eilis as both an Irish lass and an American woman.

The breakthrough role for Ronan came with her portrayal of a nasty little girl in the 2007 movie Atonement, but here, Ronan shows an entirely different side as Eilis Lacey. Eilis lives an ocean away from the people she has known so well, and slowly finding her place where everyone is a stranger to her. In an early scene, she lets a co-worker do all of the talking about her weekend, and even listens as the co-worker starts to say the things she thinks Eilis should say. Soon, she becomes less shy as the new responsibilities and new home grow more familiar. This leads to her becoming closer to Tony and learning about his life, and dealing with that closeness being put to a test. Cohen also brightens the screen with his performance as Tony. From the second he meets Eilis, he keeps in mind his reason for attending Irish dances. As they develop as a couple, Tony brings her to dinner, where his very opinionated little brother mimics the views he has certainly heard from his peers and elders. The same little brother also understands when Tony comes to him with help on his letter writing. Broadbent turns in an impressive performance as the wise and always helpful Fr. Flood. Walters also stands out in support as Mrs. Kehoe, who comes to see Eilis as different from the rest of the young ladies she offers boarding. Gleeson gives a solid performance as Jim, a young man from the home land looking to make a home in his own way.

It's sometimes hard to see the advantages of living in a country with plentiful resources - until someone not born here shows a great appreciation for being one of those afforded that chance. Brooklyn tells the tale of a young woman who leaves family and friends behind and starts the process of determining if this place in New York can become her home. The movie honestly presents the measures of gains and losses and mixes them with an unending amount of kindness. The movie faithfully recreates a different time as Eilis grows with new responsibilities and relationships. Brooklyn proudly tells of one immigrant's experiences as a love of two lands stays ever in her mind.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Brooklyn four stars. A journey home well told.


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