Highlighting every little detail from Colm Toibin’s superb novel, screenwriter Nick Hornby’s skilful words effortlessly give life to Brooklyn, a simple story that proves there’s more power in how you tell your tale than the tale itself. An intellectually and emotionally satisfying film, Brooklyn’s best asset is indeed the coming-of-age performance from Saoirse Ronan, the actress adopting a hypnotic stillness that allows the audience to feel her journey from a timid Irish girl to a woman certain of what she wants.
When we first meet Ronan’s Eilis Lacey she’s working her Sunday shift at the local grocer shop in Enniscorthy, a small town in southeast Ireland. She’s coy, to say the least, and has just informed her spiteful employer she’s bound for Brooklyn in the United States. The arrangement for Eilis to work in the New York borough comes courtesy of her devoted sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) and kindly priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), the two organising housing in a boarding home under the traditionalist views of Madge Kehoe (a biting Julie Walters). In one of the film’s many small, understated moments the bond explored between Eilis and Rose is a tangible one, the pain they experience as they say goodbye coming off so honestly to an already invested audience.
Eilis’s transformation is gradual and we are with her every step of the way as she settles into her new Brooklyn surroundings, as she battles the tribulations of her requirements at the upmarket department store she works at, and the unexpected romance that blossoms between herself and Tony (a suitably endearing Emory Cohen), an Italian plumber she meets at a weekly dance. The moments the film stops to explore their relationship are some of Brooklyn’s finest; one stand-out being the fellow boarding house girls schooling Eilis in the art of eating spaghetti as she prepares to meet Tony’s family at their home. But just as much as Brooklyn presents new-found happiness in Eilis’s life, so too does it with sadness when she is required to return home, there finding a “suitable” man (Domnhall Gleeson) who evokes the heart of a girl who may or may not have left her Irish ties behind.
The lushness of the Irish countryside is wonderfully offset by the bustling Brooklyn setting, and the aforementioned script is rich with crisp dialogue and naturally evolved humour, resulting in a feature that is genuinely heart-warming and sure to resonate with anyone who has left their safety net without happiness on the other end being a guarantee. And then there’s Ronan, an undeniably charismatic screen presence who emerges from this beautiful film a bonafide star.
Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)