'Brooklyn' (2015)/Directed by John Crowley/Grade: A-
I am a die-hard fan of romance films, but this 2015, Oscar-nominated stunner truly stands out as something special. Based upon the novel of the same name by Colm Toibin, it follows an Irish girl named Eilis (Saiorse Ronan) who immigrates to Brooklyn, NY in order to make her own living. Soon after, she meets a charming Italian guy named Tony (Emory Cohen), and the two fall in love. But when tragedy strikes back home, and Eilis must pay a visit, it makes her question what her definition of home even is.
That angle alone- questioning where you belong- is what anchors Brooklyn in a poignant and unique perspective, and keeps it fresh. The impact of this was also aided by Saiorse Ronan's performance, the actress's best, in my opinion. It's a shame she didn't take home the Best Actress Oscar. At every turn, her face was a perpetual study in inner turmoil. Though she delivered her dialogue well, Ronan was at her finest here when Eilis simply had to convince me of her emotions through her expressions and posture. One scene, where Eilis was required to help run a luncheon for the homeless, brought me to tears when I first saw it. I choose to keep it vague on the details because it's better if you experience the scene fresh. I bet you'll cry, too.
Emory Cohen was also a delightful surprise as Tony. While I had liked his performance in The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) fine, here he showed a range I hadn't seen from him before. Not only was he charming and witty, as you'd expect in this genre, but he was attentive, a great communicator, honest, vulnerable. As I watched him and Eilis interact, it just felt plain good to watch two emotionally healthy people enjoy each other's company. It was also terrific that the big issue in their relationship wasn't self-imposed, but just caused by an unavoidable life event. Again, no spoilers, but it didn't feel like screenwriter Nick Hornby had strained to create drama where none was needed. It felt organic, which is also a credit to editor Jake Roberts and his command over the story's pace.
The film was also just achingly beautiful from an aesthetic standpoint, particularly when it came to the costumes designed by Odile Dicks-Mireaux, the cinematography by Yves Belanger, and the production design by Francois Seguin. Right away, this movie captured the look and feel of 1951 NY, as well as that of Eilis' hometown, beautifully. Belanger knows exactly how to convey a character's every emotion and thought with merely a camera angle or movement. But it was the costumes that stole the show, particularly for Eilis. When the story started, she wore mainly darker colors, i.e. green, navy blue, etc. But as her arc progressed in a more optimistic direction, the clothes she wore grew brighter and more vibrant. It's always been amazing to me how just the colors of a costume can tell you everything you need to know about where a character's at in their journey.
My only big issue with the film is with the opening section in Eilis' homeland. There's very little screen time given to establishing the ordinary world of her life there, that by the time she's got to immigrate to America, it feels very rushed like I haven't gotten to know her well. Only when Eilis is forced to make a temporary trip back to Ireland about midway through does the film actually give us a substantial amount of development for this aspect of her life and background. I regret that the filmmakers chose not to include more of that at the start, like Colm Toibin did in his book.
That aside, Brooklyn remains a touching, sometimes funny, riveting romantic drama that doubles as a timeless coming-of-age story. If you're a fan of this genre, Saoirse Ronan, or you've read the novel and are curious to see if its adaptation did it justice, I couldn't recommend you rent it enough.