There is a lot of controversy over the lack of films starring people of colour. Even last year had Selma. But after last year’s overload of films about he-man white males, it’s nice to see more films focused on women. You got three Best Picture Nominees, one from a franchise normal centered on a guy. The Screenplay categories have more female centered films like Carol, Ex Machina and Inside Out. It doesn’t necessarily make up for the lack of race at the Oscars, but one can appreciate one demographic getting more attention.
Based on the novel by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn centers on Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish girl whose life changes when an arrangement is made for her to immigrate to America. After a long and queasy boat ride, Eilis gets registered in Ellis Island and she moves lives in an Irish boardinghouse in Brooklyn. In time, she attracts the attention of local Tony (Emory Cohen). But just as she gets comfortable, Eilis is forced to return to Ireland when her sister (Fiona Glascott) dies and their mother (Jane Brennan) falls apart in grief. Back in her hometown, she attracts the eye of local Jim (Domhnall Gleeson). But which place feels more at home for Eilis?
On the surface, it sounds like a chick flick, the kind you’d take your mother to. With novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) providing his gift of storytelling in the screenplay, we get an engaging coming of age tale of a young woman’s self-discovery. She starts out a timid girl at home in a simple living with her mother and her sister. When she leaves for New York, she steps out of her comfort zone for the first time. Albeit, she did so to better provide for her family, but this is the first time she’s on her own.
Well, she’s not really alone. Whether it’s her ship roommate or the girls who live with her at a boardroom, Eilis’ world is filled with entertaining and helpful characters. Ok, her New York Boss is hard on her, but even she wants to help her get better. There are many great performances to go around. Both Cohen and Gleeson bring their own charm to their characters, which represent an aspect of their homes. Jim Broadbent provides a grandfatherly quality as Father Flood. But Julie Walters steals the show as the traditional Boardroom tenant baffled by the wild girl’s behavior.
But the film ultimately belongs to Ronan. Since her Oscar nominated performance as a tween writer who unintentionally destroys two lives in Atonement, Ronan has delivered one fantastic performance after another. Here, she keeps the audience engaged to this shy girl as she grows into an experienced, self-thinking woman. With just a turn of the head, Ronan can say more about her character than most actresses can with dialogue. Alongside Hornby’s screenplay and John Crowley’s direction, she ascends this story from a mere chick flick to a mature journey of self-discovery.
Many people wonder why she doesn’t just move back to Brooklyn, but the film reminds us how hard it is for some people to break away from home and build their own lives. Eilis has the fear of hurting her mother, especially when she’s still grieving over the loss of another daughter. And there’s the town that seems to want to keep her from moving. And there’s the possibility of a future at home. And yet, there’s always that longing deep within. And then there’s the reminder of why she left in the first place. Things aren’t always as simple as it seems.
What is certain is Brooklyn is a crowd pleasing good time. Many entertaining characters surround a beautiful world of 1950s New York as we take a delightful journey with this young woman. From a humble sleeper hit, we will soon look at a gut punching pop culture sensation with an entirely different female lead.