Brooklyn’s old-timey feel will likely give you all the feels

Brooklyn is one of the Best Picture nominees I feel like most people hadn’t seen or heard much about prior to its Oscar nomination.  Originally a limited release from Fox Searchlight back in early November, it never played in more than 962 theaters nationwide (blockbuster films average right around 3,000).  The film has done fairly well during awards season, picking up a slew of nominations and a few wins here and there, most significantly the BAFTA Award for Outstanding British Film.  Many believe its star, Saoirse Ronan, would have been a Best Actress lock if not for Brie Larson’s performance in Room, which has dominated all the major awards ceremonies so far.  Brooklyn arrives on digital download on February 23rd (followed by Blu-ray on March 15th) and we’ll know if the film or Ronan pulls off any Oscar upsets on Sunday, February 28th.  

Based upon Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name, the 1950s period drama tells the story of Eilis Lacey (Ronan), a young woman who leaves a complacent life in Ireland with hopes of bettering herself across the ocean in Brooklyn, despite her close relationship with her sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott) and their mother, Mary (Jane Brennan).  The first part of the movie focuses on Eilis’ turbulent journey and adjustment to life in New York, which is often spent struggling to smile at work, eating dinners alone and crying herself to sleep.  However, things take a pleasant turn for Eilis when she meets a nice, handsome Italian young man, Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen).  The next part of the film focuses on Eilis coming out of her shell while she and Tony begin dating and fall in love.

Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures

However, Eilis’ happiness is cut short when an emergency forces her to go back to Ireland, but not before promising Tony she’ll return to him.  At first, it seems like an easy promise to keep, but Eilis is then offered a promising job opportunity.  Even more unexpectedly, she accomplishes the impossible and meets a young man as equally charming as Tony in her hometown, Jim (played by Domhnall Gleeson, who’s pretty much in everything these days).  Eilis must then decide whether to keep her promise and return to her beloved Tony in Brooklyn or choose a life at home in Ireland with Jim, her lifelong friends and her family.

A phrase that film critics say all the time (yes, including myself) is good in parts, but not as a whole.  Brooklyn is actually the complete opposite of this in that a bunch of well-written, superbly acted scenes serve as strong, cohesive pieces that precisely connect to push the story forward.  It’s very lean; there’s really not a bad or extraneous scene throughout the entire film.       

Director John Crowley really got the best he could out of his tremendously talented cast.  Saoirse Ronan is clearly the film’s centerpiece – after all, if we don’t like Eilis, why should we care about her journey, new life or anyone else she meets along the way?  She plays the character with a finely measured balance of vulnerability, kindness, nervousness and playful sarcasm.  In other words, Eilis is the type of girl guys can talk to for less than five minutes and already know they’re crazy about.  Emory Cohen plays Tony with this knock-em-dead-aw-shucks-charm that even I, a perfectly straight dude, found Goddam irresistible.  Seriously, this guy was Sam Rockwell-level charming and to be charming on Rockwell’s level in any movie is the fucking Holy Grail of cinematic charm.  Even more confounding is that somehow Domhnall Gleeson discovered a way to rise to the daunting task of making his character of Jim just as charming as Tony!  I can’t help but think of some of my close female friends who have been looking forever for nice guys and their response to Eilis finding, not one, but TWO without even trying – on two different continents!  Those friends are literally going to lose their shit when they see this movie.

Brooklyn will deeply resonate with anyone who has ever left home.  For people who have felt the pain of kissing their mother before a long goodbye, had to get used to sleeping countless miles away from the family and friends they love, or known the gnawing agony of missing someone’s face, this movie will surely strike a chord within them.       

Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures

However, the true charm of Brooklyn is its old-timey feel – it plays like an homage to the romance classics of The Golden Age.  The serene settings, gorgeous costume work and simplistic storyline are reminiscent of something you’d find any given night on TCM.  If there’s any little gripe I have about the film, it’s that when looking at Brooklyn through a modern, practical lense, some of the events that add to Eilis’ complication during her return to Ireland feel much too convenient, particularly how she is able to land her dream job and just happens to meet Jim the Charming Ginger…again all without really trying.  But those conventions were typical in the black-and-white romance epics of the 1930s and 40s Brooklyn seems to be paying tribute to, so it’s more or less forgivable.

Brooklyn is not a film I necessarily loved or considered a masterpiece, but it’s one hell of an enjoyable movie.  It paints a personal and easily identifiable illustration about a young woman’s voyage to make a life here in America and just how complicated those journeys were – and continue to be – for all immigrants.  I don’t foresee it pulling off an Academy Award Best Picture upset, but with its brilliant performances, relatable subject matter and resolute charm, it certainly is a formidable nominee.