|movie review | July 2016
An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn
by Anita Casey-Reed
Sometimes, adventure is not swashbuckling action in exotic locations or dodging bullets in a speeding car; sometimes, it's a person leaving the comforts of a pre-determined life and plunging into an unknown world where the future is entirely in their own hands. That's the adventurous spirit shown by Eilis Lacey (portrayed by Saoirse Ronan in her Oscar-nominated role), the young woman who leaves her small Irish village in the early 1950s to immigrate to America in "Brooklyn".
Eilis is sponsored by a kindly priest (Jim Broadbent), who helps her acquire a job in a glamorous department store and a room in Mrs. Kehoe's (Julie Walters) boarding house for respectable young women; but even he cannot prevent her inevitable longing for the mother and beloved sister left behind in the old country. As the seasons change, however, each letter brings fewer tears. A night school class inspires her to make something more of her life and a trip to the local parish hall dance introduces a budding romance with a charming young man named Tony (Emory Cohen).
One thing I loved about this film is how the vast majority of characters reveal layers of generosity and consideration as they interact. Early on, Mrs. Kehoe suggests that the homesick Eilis have the best room in the house when one of the other tenants moves out. Later, the imposing supervisor at work gladly assists her in finding the right "swimming costume" for a trip to Coney Island. Even the two cattiest boarding house girls pitch in to teach Eilis the exotic art of eating spaghetti, so that she can make the best possible impression on Tony's boisterous Italian family.
But just as Eilis and Tony's relationship becomes serious, tragic news arrives, and Eilis returns to Ireland. Her new-found poise becomes the talk of the town, and she suddenly acquires both a well-paying job and the admiring attention of the most eligible bachelor in the village (Domhnall Gleeson). Suddenly, she has to consider her choices all over again, and determine anew how she wants to live her life.
For a film that was up for three Academy Awards (besides Ronan's lead performance, it also received nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture), "Brooklyn" still feels like an undiscovered gem. The movie is resolutely about ordinary people leading ordinary lives. The dramas and adventures are those of the human heart, in a way that may strike some as old-fashioned, but to me seems timeless and universal.
"Brooklyn" is rated PG-13 for brief sexuality and strong language, but I would consider it appropriate for all adults and for most children once they hit adolescence. The love scene is sweet, completely relevant to the plot, and let's face it -- with 1950s undergarments, the characters are probably more covered up when they're "undressed" than half the people we'll see in real life this summer.
Anita Casey-Reed is a member of the Cinema 100 Film Society, a volunteer for the Dakota Digital Film Festival and co-host of "Reel Retro" on Dakota Media Access. She lives in Bismarck with her husband and two children.