A rare gem of a coming-of-age story
The strength of Brooklyn is in its innate subtlety.The film is not action-packed, its scenes are not wildly colourful; instead, its delicate and sensitive tones build the storyline until we find that irresistible rush of emotional release so intertwined with the finality of choice. It’s difficult to separate the Screen Talk with Saoirse Ronan at the London Film Festival this week with the film itself.Having heard the 21-year-old actor herself, playing Eilis was the hardest, most vulnerable and most rewarding performance she has given in her already lengthy career. After viewing Brooklyn, Ronan’s admission is indisputable, it's a rare gem of a coming-of-age story. Brooklyn isn’t what I would call full-on, rather it holds you while you experience Eilis’ pain along side her.
Born to Irish parents, Ronan is definitely an Irish girl at heart, which is why she relates with her character so closely. She claims to stay grounded by having good people around her and solid roots to refer back to in the glitzy glamour of the film industry. She is honest. She is funny, and I think everyone would agree with me, she is a trustworthy actor.
Brooklyn follows Eilis Lacey (pronounced AY-lish,), a young Irish immigrant in the 1950s, whose journey to America traces the footpaths of millions before her. Her father having died, and her mother and sister back home, Eilis is ready for a new life with opportunities she has no access to in Ireland. As the realisation of moving countries sets in, we see her quietly struggle to cope, her later happiness, and then the ultimate wave of indecision and awareness of the unknown.
Its delicate and sensitive tones build the storyline until we find that irresistible rush of emotional release.
Screenwriter Nick Hornby writes Eilis and her supporting characters with heartfelt, unadorned dialogue. The stoicism encouraged by 1950s Irish society and the tenderness of youth and hardship are woven together into believable exchanges between characters. We chuckle, we cry, we think about what life is like for this young woman, her thoughts clearly communicated through her eyes, thanks to Ronan’s acting and director John Crowley’s acute close-up shots. Ronan’s distress is palpable. What is shown on-screen is true pain, as she drew on her actual life experience, parallel with that of Eilis’ own entanglement with homesickness and loneliness.
Through Eilis, we find a reflection of ourselves and a recognition of the unpredictability of life. We empathise with her dialectical tension: being torn between two places and two lives, and one senses her wisdom and growth towards the end of the film. Ronan brings her to life, and the cast (amongst whom include Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters, and Jim Broadbent) supports the journey in a fine way, their acting all making Eilis’ indecisiveness understandable and justified. Her choices are difficult because of the love and opportunity for happiness all her potential paths represent, as well as those people her paths include.
Brooklyn is demanding and yet a muted, sweet, and affecting film. A great deal of commitment has surely paid off for cast and crew. I can’t recommend it enough; it was a pleasure to see.
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