December, 2015, Drama

Given the tension surrounding immigration that’s flooding the media these days, it’s refreshing to see a film that takes a very positive attitude towards those who build their lives in America. This period romance between an Irish lass and a Brooklyn plumber occasionally teeters on the brink of the saccharine, but a brilliant performance by Saoirse Ronan (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Hanna) makes this modest Irish movie worth seeing, if only in anticipation of this year’s Oscar race.

Irish director John Crowley (Closed Circuit and episodes of HBO’s True Detective 2) and screenwriter Nick Hornby have adapted novelist Colm Toibin’s tale of young love in the early 1950’s into a sweetly etched parable about birthplace, personal identity and adaptability to different cultures. Ronan plays Eilis, a young woman who migrates to the U. S. under the sponsorship of a Catholic priest in Brooklyn. There she meets an ardent young man and falls in love, but when a family crisis draws her back to her hometown in Ireland, she’s torn between a past full of comfortable familiarity and the possibility of an uncertain future in a country she’s only begun to understand. What’s a girl to do?

Ronan delivers a performance of astonishing depth and appeal principally by allowing the camera to trace her quiet but strong personality as she masters the requirements of her first job, then night school and finally the affection of her smitten Italian boyfriend Tony, played by Emory Cohen. Ronan was born in the U. S. and already has nearly two dozen performances to her credit. This one is likely to earn her an Oscar nomination in what is otherwise a small, Hallmark Card-like movie, but her screen presence is radiant and surely augers well for her career going forward.

As her love interest, Cohen is burdened with lines that make it hard to see him as anything more than a romantic prop and while his chivalrous blue collar Romeo conveys the proper tone for a young romance, it falls wide of the mark in terms of a realistic presentation of his character’s roots. The always-dependable Jim Broadbent plays the priest who first sponsors and then advises Eilis and the rest of the ensemble cast does a nice job of fleshing out the environment in which Eilis and Tony fall in love.

Brooklyn also benefits from the authentic “feel” of time and place provided by Francois Seguin’s production design and Suzanne Cloutier’s set decoration; a romance as effervescent as this one needs all the realistic support the cast and crew can provide.

The Verdict? An old-fashioned, idealized romance anchored by its female lead’s dazzling performance that more than makes up for the movie’s outsized sentimentality.

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