DVD Release Date: March 15, 2016
Theatrical Release Date: November 4, 2015 (Limited)
Genre: Drama, Romance
Run Time: 111 minutes
Director: John Cowley
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent
Isn't there something romantic and spectacular about the idea of New York City? In tale after tale it exists as the portal to new life and new opportunities. Lady Liberty stands as a beacon of hope, welcoming the weary foreigner yearning to make a fresh start and flee from the oppression, poverty, and weariness of the old world.
Ellis Lacey (the flawless Saoirse Ronan, The Grand Budapest Hotel) doesn't have much keeping her in Ireland excepting her quiet mother and gentle sister. She works for a grouchy grocer and hates it, she hasn’t got a beau, and finally the pieces have fallen together for her to move to New York. Though she hesitates to leave her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) to care for their widowed mother (Jane Brennan), Rose absolutely insists that she take the opportunity to find her way and create a life for herself in America.
From this point on, while nothing dazzling or spectacular, Brooklyn quietly draws us in. We’ve all packed a bag and thought, "This is it." So many of us have clutched a ticket and boarded that plane, train, or in Ellis's case, boat, and taken the plunge into a new and unforeseen adventure. There is something wondrously cathartic about Ellis's reserved anticipation, then her fear and bewilderment, and finally the rush of tears once the loneliness and homesickness truly kicks in. The movie doesn’t worry about cramming dialogue into the tight corners; in plenty of scenes we simply watch as Ellis learns to navigate Brooklyn and her new job at a fancy department store.
The year wears on, and Ellis still feels out of place when, finally, we see Tony Fiorella (Emory Cohen) standing across the room - and something clicks. Ellis's blossoming relationship with this young Italian plumber gives us the absolute warm fuzzies of an old-fashioned courtship, gently and without pomp and circumstance. But when Ellis must make an unforeseen trip back to Ireland to deal with the aftermath of a tragic family loss, her confidence in her affection for Tony (and her growing peace and joy at living in Brooklyn) is put to the ultimate test. Everything seems to call her back home: her aging mother, the promise of a bookkeeping job (just the kind she’s been studying for in NYC), and even a softspoken Irish gentleman who befriends her near the beginning of her visit.
So then, what is home? “I don’t feel like I have a home,” Ellis admits at one point, torn between the village where she was raised, and the city of her classes, new friends, job, and the man for which she cares so deeply. Enniscorthy is her roots. But does Brooklyn hold her future?
It is in the small and relatable moments that Brooklyn shines and most tugs on our heartstrings, like a lengthy shot of Ellis’ face as she watches her friend on the dance floor the night before she’s due to leave Ireland. Or the immigration office in New York, with the brilliant white sunlight beckoning Ellis on the other side of the door. Tony’s winsome, nervous smiles. Ellis’ boarding-house-mates teaching her how to twirl spaghetti before she goes to dine with the Fiorello family for the first time.
Perhaps the most stirring moment of the film is Ellis’ first Christmas in Brooklyn when she helps her patron Father Flood (Jim Broadbent, Harry Potter) serve Christmas dinner to a large group of elderly Irishmen. Many are barely able to keep themselves alive, Flood tells her, although once upon a time these men were instrumental in building the roads, tracks, and tunnels whichnow flow through the city. As a token of appreciation, one of them offers a song to the ladies, and the soaring celtic ballad is instantly tear-jerking, both for viewers and Ellis. The room, filled with poverty and broken dreams, now holds a nostalgia of what was once true and beautiful. We feel Ellis’ ache and disjointedness as she listens to the haunting melody. We see that, while she’s glad to be working and useful in America, she’s an Irish girl, and Ireland will always lay claim to part of her heart...just as our own homelands have a distinct, complicated hold on us all.
Ellis is a heroine both practical and spirited; reserved, but ready to pursue her dreams. Ronan carries the role with heart and honesty, as in all her work, and is supported by excellent performances from the rest of the cast, both Irish and Brooklyn characters. She takes us on a journey through the leaf-framed streets of Brooklyn (almost as lovely and bustling as they are in real life) and her story reminds us how hard it is to straddle both freedom and family.
Not all of us leave home to find adventure and make new beginnings. But most of us do, at least once. For this reason, Brooklyn will resonate with most of us in many ways. We’re all the seasick, homesick child at first. But if we’re brave, allow ourselves to grow, and learn the vital importance of loving and promise-keeping, we too can turn around and give others the same advice that was given to us:
Keep your head high. Think like a New Yorker. Look like you know where you’re going. It’ll get better - and it will be beyond beautiful.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Drugs/Alcohol:Characters are shown drinking alcoholic beverages and smoking.
- Language/Profanity: A couple brief instances of strong language (including the f-word)
- Sex/Nudity: One scene depicts an engaged couple kissing, partially disrobing, and going on to have sex, but there is no nudity and nothing visually explicit. The direction focuses on their faces, and the scene is short.
- Violent/Frightening/Intense: A young woman’s dead body is shown briefly.