Directed by John Crowley (Fox Searchlight, 2015)
Within the first 10 minutes of Brooklyn, it is clear that the film’s lead, Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is destined for something beyond her small Irish town. Rose, Eilis’ sister to whom she is fiercely devoted, knows that as well and finds an Irish priest in Brooklyn, New York to sponsor Eilis’ emigration to America. Set in 1950s Brooklyn and based on Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel of the same name, the film is a story about leaving home and journeying into the unknown.
“We need Irish girls in Brooklyn,” Eilis’ sponsor, Father Flood, remarks in an attempt to comfort Eilis from her almost debilitating homesickness. Quick-witted and startlingly candid, she responds, “I can’t stop thinking that I want to be an Irish girl in Ireland.” Indeed, her longing for home begins the moment she begins her transatlantic journey. While penning letters to Rose, Eilis is keenly aware of how out of place she feels in the place she’s trying to call home—until she meets Tony (Emory Cohen). A New York-born Italian American who admits to having a thing for Irish girls, he believes—in Eilis—he’s found the woman of his dreams. He falls for her immediately, while Eilis’ feelings about him take longer to surface.
The radiant yet understated Eilis carries the film. Cohen’s Tony stands out like a sore thumb, a caricature of Italian Americans who’d be more at home in something by Martin Scorsese. The chemistry between Eilis and Tony is cold, not the quietly passionate romance the film’s script demands. That’s partly to blame for why, ultimately, fails to deliver. Faced with what should be a heart-wrenching decision, Eilis barely struggles. Instead of a slowly building wave that crests and crashes spectacularly, the film’s climax is akin to a gentle lapping of water at the seashore. The result is little more than a well-costumed period drama with charming accents and quaint scenarios.
This article appears in the March 2016 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 81, No. 3, page 40).