Brooklyn: Home Is Where The Heart Is

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Most of us have experienced it at some point in our lives. Maybe it hit you when you went away to summer camp for the first time. Maybe it hit when you moved into your dorm at college or set out on your own after graduation. When homesickness strikes, you do your best to ride it out. Eventually, it gets better.

“Homesickness is like most sickness — it will pass.”

Sage words from Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) for our young protagonist Eilis (pronounced A-lish) in the inspired immigrant film Brooklyn.

An adaptation of the Colm Tóibín novel, Brooklyn follows the journey of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) as she immigrates to Brooklyn from a small Irish town in the 1950s. In search of work and a life beyond what her seemingly closed-off community can offer, Eilis makes the difficult decision to leave her mother and sister behind to head for greener (concrete) pastures in the U.S.

While she’d certainly miss her mother, leaving her elder sister and best friend Rose (Fiona Glascott) is almost too much to bear. But, as Rose is the one who contacted Father Flood and arranged for Eilis to move to America in the first place, there was no backing out.

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After a tumultuous journey aboard her bobbing ocean liner, Eilis is put up in a boarding house run by the very proper, very religious, and quite Irish Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters). While there are four other girls living in the house, it isn’t exactly home. And, despite much of her time being taken up by work at Bartocci’s department store and night classes in Brooklyn, she can’t escape the loneliness.

That is, until she attends one of the weekly dances put on by the community center. It’s here that she meets Tony (Emory Cohen).

Side note: I felt oddly connected to their meeting at a “town dance” because my parents and grandparents have often relayed similar stories, and it seemed apropos. It’s a shame that these community events are less common today.

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In any event, despite the fact that Tony Fiorello is exceedingly Italian, and “Italians don’t like the Irish” according to his kid-brother Frankie, the two are flung into a romantic (albeit uneven) relationship.

Offering a stark contrast to modern dating by showing what it entailed in the 1950s, Eilis and Tony’s courtship swims along with visits to meet his parents and to Coney Island before she is abruptly called back to Ireland for a family matter.

Once hit by the familiarity of home and its people, especially the eligible Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), Eilis must again make the difficult decision as to where she feels she truly belongs. Can she ever really go home again?

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Brooklyn triumphs because it’s able to find a level of relatability for just about anyone who has even moved away from home, even if not all the way to another country. It’s about discovering what home really means to you, and if it’s a single place or an idea that shifts from place to place. It pits the familiar against the possibility of something better, and family duties against the pursuit of your own dreams. It’s like choosing between your past and a future.

Beautifully shot with a tremendous use of color contrast and pop to draw your eye in otherwise modest scenes, Brooklyn delivers a moving cinematic experience to the last from director John Crowley (Boy A, Intermission) and screenwriter Nick Hornby (Wild, About a Boy, High Fidelity). You’d be hard pressed to find a weak link among the cast, with Ronan in particular delivering a fantastic performance that acutely depicts the internalization of emotion that is commonly pegged as Irish stoicism.

Subtly impactful and well worth the watch, give Brooklyn a chance even if it’s not the type of film you’d typically see.

4/5 reels

PG-13

111 min

Director: John Crowley

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson

US Release: November 6, 2015, Wildgaze Films, Fox Searchlight Pictures

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