Get out your handkerchiefs
Saoirse Ronan has, at age 21, already amassed an impressive list of credits including an Oscar nomination for Atonement (2010) and acclaimed roles in The Lovely Bones (2009), Hanna (2001) and last year’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. She even shined in The Host (2013), a feeble attempt to create another franchise by Twilight scribe Stephenie Meyer.
In Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley and adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel by Nick Hornsby, the picture rests almost entirely on Ronan’s shoulders, and she delivers not just one of the best performances of her career but one of the best performances in an English-language film this year. She’s not just coming up, she’s arrived.
This is a coming-of-age tale, circa 1952, with Ronan’s teenager Eilis (pronounced “Eilish”) Lacey making a sponsored immigration from her small village in Ireland all the way across the Atlantic to big New York City, specifically the title borough, where she takes a room in the boarding house owned by Madge Kehoe (Julie Walters at her chipper best).
As a larger sense of the world unfolds before her and conveyed beautifully in Ronan’s performance, Eilis literally blooms before our eyes. She is wooed, and won, by Tony (Emory Cohen), a down-to-earth plumber from a large (suitably boisterous) Italian family, and embarks on a career – nothing fancy, just a bookkeeper.
When Eilis returns to Ireland, she finds herself torn between her old life there and the one she’s established in America. This is hardly a novel dilemma, in literature or film, but the honesty and immediacy that Ronan brings to Eilis gives it an uncommon urgency. Some will label Brooklyn a soap opera, and not inaccurately, but it’s a transcendent example – one that puts sensitivity firmly ahead of schmaltz.
Augmented by Yves Belanger’s gorgeous cinematography – Brooklyn never had it so good! – as well as Francois Seguin’s period design and Michael Brook’s score, Brooklyn is awash in nostalgia without becoming over-saturated. It’s simply one of the loveliest films of the year, both in visual and storytelling terms.
Even down to the smallest role, the performances are faultless: Fiona Glascott, Jane Brennan, Domhnall Gleeson, Nora- Jane Noone, Jessica Pare, Jenn Murray, Brid Branagh (adding the nastiest notes), and reliable Jim Broadbent as the sort of kindly Irish priest that Barry Fitzgerald in his prime couldn’t have done better.