Saoirse Ronan has quietly put together a fine acting career. For almost ten years she has steadily delivered one good performance after another. In 2007 she became one of the youngest actresses to ever receive an Academy Award nomination. But what is truly surprising is the fact that Ronan is only 21 years-old and with each new film she continues to mature as an actress. That has never been more evident than in her new picture “Brooklyn”.
This beautiful period drama is from director John Crowley and scripted by Nick Hornby. It’s based on Colm Tóibín’s novel about a quiet Irish girl given an opportunity to make a better life for herself overseas in 1952 Brooklyn, New York. There is nothing cagey or complex about the story, but it’s simplicity is part of its charm and it works mainly due to a captivating lead performance.
Ronan plays Eilis, an Irish girl whose life is dictated by the people and practices in her County Wexford village. She’s quiet and cordial even when working for her cuss of a boss at a local general store. Her older sister Rose (Fiona Glasscott) knows there is nothing for Eilis in the village so with the help of a priest named Father Flood (Jim Broadbent in a superb bit of casting), she arranges for Eilise to travel to New York to create a new and better life for herself.
There is one key thing I appreciate about the story itself and Crowley’s direction. There are several opportunities for the movie to wander down a conventional and cliché path. When Eilise first arrives in Brooklyn she is clearly in a new world. But it doesn’t turn into your standard ‘fish out of water’ story. Her struggles, her loneliness, her homesickness – it is all handled and presented in a way that is thoughtful and genuine. But most importantly it serves the character without drowning the audience in overwrought depictions of her circumstances.
Her struggles ease a bit when she meets a nice, hard-working Italian plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen). Again, the movie could have ventured off into a number of directions including the predictable Irish/Italian relationship complications. Thankfully it does not. That’s not the story it wants to tell. Instead it unfolds into a sweet love story that allows us to see a number of new sides to Eilise. She becomes more comfortable and more confident. The longing for home slowly subsides and takes on a new form. We see a new and different young woman.
The idea of ‘home’ becomes one of the film’s central themes. Eilise is faced with a predicament that causes her to question where her true home is. Other people have no problems defining ‘home’ for her. The question becomes will she throw aside her newly found self-confidence to once again allow her life to be determined by the wishes of others? Or will she take the reins and define her ‘home’ and her life for herself?
“Brooklyn” maneuvers through a minefield of too much melodrama and sentimentality at times coming dangerously close to both. But it never overdoes it. Instead it focuses on its main character and everything works towards telling her story. And it is a lovely story. There is a rhythmic beauty to the storytelling and Crowley’s camera helps convey it. There are so many gorgeous shots that stuck with me well after the movie was over.
While the story is sweet and alluring and the film looks fantastic, this is mainly a sparkling showcase for Saoirse Ronan. I don’t know if there was a more sublimely expressive or emotionally earnest performance this year. I can’t imagine anyone else playing this role any better and Ronan deserves all the attention that is certain to come her way. This is her movie and she makes it one of the year’s finest.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS