“You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won’t kill you… and one day the sun will come out and you’ll realize that this is where your life is.”
Brooklyn, an adaptation of the eponymous novel, tells the story of a 1950s young woman, Eilis, who uproots from Ireland and immigrates to the United States. She finds love, but is conflicted about where to call home. Admittedly, this description doesn’t thrill me, and based on trailers I wasn’t keen on seeing this film. However, in an overall underwhelming year of cinema, I am pleased to say that Brooklyn surprised me – the film I perceived as a “typical sappy love story” turned out to be one of the best and most beautiful films of the year.
Brooklyn adeptly weaves an immigrant narrative with equal parts humor, heartache, and hope. The script is very strong, effectively plucking at heartstrings as it plays with one’s feelings of home, family, and belonging. The film had me rooting for Eilis even when making questionable decisions, which serves as a tribute to her nuanced character. By no means a passive vessel for the plot to wash over or to receive a man’s affections, she is not your average female romance character. Eilis is written as a real human being (what a concept!), with doubts, fears, and desires viewers can connect with, which are externalized by the very effective use of narrative juxtaposition. Furthermore, Brooklyn does not follow the typical mold of building to one overly emotional finale, but rather constantly ebbs and flows with emotion. Sad or melancholy moments occurring throughout the film rather than confined to the finale – much like real life. I laughed and cried in equal measure, and was made to feel a broader spectrum of emotions than most films can hope to provide.
While Saoirse Ronan definitely had a wonderful script to work from, she gives Eilis a vitality and strength that is both intriguing and enticing, and is believable throughout the Eilis’s steady and meaningful character development. It is refreshing to see a female lead who is independent, driven, and capable of making decisions for herself. I think this sort of subtle character work is undervalued, being overshadowed by more obvious displays of cinematic transformation, so I am glad Ronan is being recognized for her sensitive and entrenched artistry. Of note, several lingering close ups of her face provide a deep sense of meaning to impactful moments, mostly from her exceptionally expressive eyes.
Ronan’s performance, not only in these focused shots but throughout the film, was elevated by beautiful direction and cinematography. Each shot was purposefully done, without feeling as such, and just the right amount of untraditional or unexpected perspectives provides interest without distraction. The use of lighting is enchanting, once again lending the film a feeling of authenticity and intimacy. The costume design is also worth mentioning, with beautiful period outfits that made me consistently wish people would dress now as they did in the 50s.
If you don’t think you would like Brooklyn, I urge you to give it a try. The excellent use of lighting, colour, and focus make it worth a view on the big screen, but regardless you should be enchanted by the emotion and humanity of the film. Rest assured, its themes will entice your mind, its humor will tickle your funny bone, its cinematography will widen your eyes, and most importantly its plot will satisfy and warm your heart.