Last night's film, John Crowley's Brooklyn (screenplay by Nick Hornby, based on the novel Brooklyn by Colm Tóibin).
Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, a young girl who leaves her sister and mother in Ireland to seek a better life in America. Her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) sees that Eilis is smart and has potential, and that life in 1950s Ireland will be a dead end for Eilis. She arranges with an Irish priest living in Brooklyn (played by Jim Broadbent) to find a department store job and a place at a boarding house for Eilis. Along the way she is introduced to a whole menagerie of characters, and we see her finding her feet in this new life and in life in general.
There's nothing like loss to help us focus on what is important. For a young person, the loss of family must rank among the most traumatic. Eilis and Rose have recently lost their father in Ireland, and now Eilis's departure puts her entire being at sea (literally and figuratively). I wonder how many of us would thrive in that setting?
I could not help thinking--as surely we are meant to think--about the millions of people in the last two + centuries who abandoned their homes for the limitless possibilities of America. How often we have been told of the magic of Ellis Island and of the very moving sight of the Statue of Liberty--I've see these places in New York Harbor a hundred times--but Brooklyn puts us in the shoes of a young woman who has left everything she knows for the chance that there's something better elsewhere.
It's a big nugget for a story to digest, a momentous happening on a personal scale, and an exciting one.
The real nub of the film--as the trailers make clear--is not Eilis's departure initially, but her return to Ireland a year or so later and the forces that seek to keep her there. This difficult decision here is her coming-of-age moment.
Brooklyn is a quiet film, made more so by Eilis's essentially quiet, taciturn nature. Ms. Ronan has to pack a whole range of emotional experiences into a pretty limited range of expression, and the whole movie rides on her performance. Saoirse Ronan has always struck me as a bit of a chameleon. Even watching her closely it's hard for me to get any kind of a read on her--indeed, I can't even quite picture what she looks like. It's not that she's generic or forgettable, exactly--she seems very normal and reasonably attractive--but hers seems the countenance of possibility. It also means that she seems able to play almost any character--from Eilis to teen assassin Hannah to Agatha in The Grand Budapest Hotel--with conviction. She is in every scene and the film sinks or swims with her.
I confess I'd never even heard of Irish director John Crowley. It seems he has worked primarily in theatre, and has done a few films and a bit of television. Brooklyn should certainly raise his profile another notch. Mirroring my comments on Spotlight (though a very different kind of film than Brooklyn), I love that Brooklyn underplays most of its elements. There's a cartoon villain or two, but most everyone is subtly played and the dilemmas which Eilis must navigate are not contrived. There's a quiet and contained realism about the story that played very well for me.
A lovely story well-told. It only misses the highest possible marks for its limited scope. Grade: A-