Hiding among this year’s best picture cast of characters, a band of astronauts, lawyers, bankers, post-apocalyptic warriors, and bad ass investigative journalists, is a young Irish-American immigrant woman named Eilis (Saoirse Ronan). Her story is not small, but simple, yet spanning continents, and frankly the perfect place to start. And thus 2WC’s countdown to the Oscars begins in “Brooklyn.”
Strangely enough the story of “Brooklyn” does not begin in Brooklyn, but in 1950’s Ireland, where we find Eilis stuck in the only world she’s ever known. Living with her family, working at a small shop in the village that barely pays enough to make ends meet for herself, her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), and their mother (Jane Brennan).
With the help (and insistence) of her older sister, Rose, Eilis is soon bound for America, in search of opportunity.
Watching Eilis transition to 1950’s era Brooklyn is fascinating and heartbreaking at times. She quickly forms bonds with the other girls living at her boarding house, run by the delightfully snarky Mrs. Keogh (Julie Walters).
Truth be told, there’s a love story at the heart of this movie, his name’s Tony (Emory Cohen). He’s Italian, she’s Irish, there’s a brief, comedic moment that acknowledges the slight culture clash there. Then when tragedy strikes and Eilis has to return to Ireland, there’s this thing with an old friend there (Domhnall Gleeson), difficult decisions have to be made. I won’t spoil that for you, and in case you couldn’t tell, for me, that’s not what makes this a story worth telling.
What makes this story worth telling (especially now) is that it’s about a strong young woman, traveling halfway across the world (in a time where transcontinental travel and communication were far more arduous) alone to a new country where she knows no one, and you know what, she does it. Not to mention that this was in a time when women were barely allowed to cross the street unaccompanied. Sure she ends up with the boy (I won’t say which one), but it’s the one she chooses.
Also, this film is beautiful, from the sweeping shots of Ireland to the bustling streets of Brooklyn, it’s stunning. Add the killer 1950’s fashion and you have yourself one incredibly good looking movie.
Finally, and most importantly, Eilis is perfect. I read this book years ago and loved it, but was apprehensive about how well it would translate to film. It was a success, and I attribute most of that to its lead, Saoirse Ronan. Eilis is a role that could have easily gotten lost in the visuals of this movie, but Saoirse gives her spunk and spine, but without losing her sweetness.
I have no illusions, in a best picture category full of Martians, spies, politicians, priest scandals, and Leonardo DiCaprio, “Brooklyn” will not likely go home with the statuette, but it will remain one of my favorite movies of the year, and a truly delightful film.