Wednesday, 17 February 2016

United States of Ireland

The Oscars are no strangers to romantic films, and the last few years have been no exception. Sometimes they are biographical (The Theory of Everything), sometimes they are about the struggles on the way to love (Silver Linings Playbook), and sometimes they are a bit kooky (Her). So what can we make of this year's tale of love? This is Brooklyn.

Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is a young Irish girl who leaves for America lead a better life. With arrangements made by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), an Irish priest, Eilis moves to Brooklyn, New York, to join the Irish community there. She is accepted into the home of Mrs. Keogh (Julie Walters) who also hosts several other young Irish girls. She begins to work in a shop, she meets a nice Italian boy called Tony (Emory Cohen), and her new life in Brooklyn begins to settle down rather nicely. But a quick trip back to Ireland could prove to upset that.

Emory Cohen and Saoirse Ronan as Tony and Eilis

Brooklyn is a film built on small yet significant roles; in a story about community, fellowship, and relationships, the supporting cast are just as important, if not more so, than the lead actress. Not to take anything away from Ronan, who we will come to in a moment, from Walters' deliciously entertaining Mrs. Keogh to Cohen's charming Tony to Domhnall Gleeson's delightfully handsome Jim Farrell, the smaller characters are what give Brooklyn its life and its energy. But its heart and soul do still come from its leading lady. Ronan plays Eilis calmly with grace. From the moment the film starts rolling, her soft manner draws the viewer in, her friendly, warm nature invites them along for the journey across the sea. Eilis has a constantly determined will that's always held back by a society that wants to keep her grounded, but Ronan's versatile charm keeps the audience rooting for her; we share in her confusion, we feel her pain, we fall in love alongside her.

Emory Cohen and Saoirse Ronan as Tony and Eilis

There is a rare quality to Brooklyn that few films accomplish. It is hopelessly romantic but also comments on a far bigger picture. Between the lines of love it tells the story of immigration, of old lands and new, of starting afresh. Nick Hornby's screenplay is structured around the struggles faced by Eilis in love and finding her home but never fails to keep sight of both of those key elements, intertwining the two with precision and care, turning the narrative of love into a metaphor for the difficulties of finding which side of the ocean her heart lies. Director John Crowley takes this story and turns it into a gloriously moving tale assisted by beautiful production design by François Séguin.

Brooklyn is an unrepentantly romantic piece of cinema and a warm hearted accomplishment of the screen. Touching, funny, and full of heart. A true success.

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