Tuesday, November 24, 2015

BROOKLYN Is a Guaranteed Charmer


- BROOKLYN is exactly the sort of movie that could be totally off-putting to me if done a certain way. A star-crossed love story about a precocious young woman deciding between two worlds and two suitors? On paper, I'm not exactly chomping at the bit to see that story. But as I've gotten older and (hopefully) wiser, I increasingly realize that any story can be great if done properly and told well. BROOKLYN exemplifies this, as it's so charming, funny, and likable that I can't help but expect that it will win just about anyone over (even the hard-hearted cynics out there). The strong cast is anchored by Saoirse Ronan in the lead role, in a winning performance that should hopefully raise the actresses' star wattage. She kicked ass as a young assassin in Hanna, and charms here as an IRish immigrant finding her way in 1950's New York. If that's not range, I don't know what is.

BROOKYLN follows the journey of Ronan's Eilis as she is sent by her family to America with the hopes of better job opportunities and a fresh start. But coming from a small Irish village where everyone knows everyone, Eilis finds life in the big city to be challenging. Eventually though, loneliness and frustration turns to excitement when Eilis meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a salt-of-the-earth Italian kid who frequents Irish dance halls (because he's got a weakness for Irish girls). Eilis and Tony quickly hit it off, and soon thereafter Eilis' overall feelings about New York improve - she becomes adept at city-livin', better able to handle her job working at an upscale clothing store, and more excited about a possible future with Tony. However, Eilis gets thrown a curveball when she's forced to travel back to Ireland in the wake of a family tragedy. She finds comfort and solace in being back in her homeland, and having returned from America, she finds herself now very much in-demand both from local businesses and local men. One in particular, Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), takes a liking to Eilis, and she - far from Tony and New York - begins to warm up to him as well. She can see a life for herself back in Ireland - a traditional, cozy life - far from the alien, distant world of Tony and New York City.

Aside from the strength of Ronan's performance as Eilis, the movie really works because the chemistry between her and both Cohen and Gleeson is so strong. With Tony in particular, he and Eilis go through a lot of the typical "falling in love" beats that you've seen many times before - but the interaction between them is so sincere-seeming that you can't help but really root for them. When Jim enters the picture, it's not that he's a bad guy - it's that he is good, and good for Eilis - but he's the safe and easy choice. And what BROOKLYN is really about is taking a chance and venturing outside your comfort zone.

For that reason, BROOKLYN functions as much more than just a charming romance. Anyone who's ever moved far from home or taken a leap in life will relate to Eilis' journey here. This is a story about someone who makes a scary leap, and then has to face a situation where ever single gravitational force in the universe seems to be pulling her back towards a safer, more familiar life than the life she's chosen for herself. But we recognize - even when Eilis can't - that the leap was a positive one, and a necessary one. And for that reason, BROOKLYN delivers a surprisingly powerful story arc, about the resistance we all face when daring to make that big leap of faith, and about overcoming that resistance so that we can end up where we truly want to be.

BROOKLYN has its more serious, dramatic moments - but it's also consistently funny and quirky in just the right measure. A lot of humor comes from the boarding house full of female Irish immigrants that Eilis stays with upon her arrival in New York. Lorded over by a strict head-of-house, the young women gossip and tease each other - often to very amusing effect. The film was written by Nick Hornby - the man who's scripted such offbeat romances as High Fidelity - and Hornby very much brings his trademark mix of wit and heart to this film's screenplay (adapted from a novel of the same name). Meanwhile, director John Crowley accentuates the movie's sweeping story with tons of picturesque scenes of Ireland's green hills and serene beaches, and creates a 1950's New York that teems with life and rich attention to period detail.

BROOKLYN is a guaranteed charmer that's also got some surprising depth. Ronan is really, really good as Eilis. She and the film's smart script will make even the most unromantic root for romance. It's that kind of movie - one I'd recommend to anyone and everyone.

My Grade: A-

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