‘Brooklyn’ never looked so beautiful
Director: John Crowley
Writer: Nick Hornby (screenwriter), Colm Toibin (novel)
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Jim Broadbent, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson
“Brooklyn” – The recent and rampant rhetoric of deporting millions of illegal immigrants from the United States has certainly divided a nation. Sure, a sizeable percentage of Americans agree with this idea, but we should also remember that the country is almost entirely composed of descendants of immigrants, both legal and illegal. In the 19th Century and the early portion of the 20th, extreme disdain for Irish immigrants in the United States emerged as an ugly scene as well. Director John Crowley’s “Brooklyn” is the story of a young Irish girl named Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) and her journey from County Wexford in Ireland to the bustling streets of New York City in the 1950s. This film contains none of the previously mentioned ugliness and instead, is nothing short of beautiful. In fact, “Brooklyn” is the most gorgeously-filmed movie I’ve seen so far this year.
In the beginning of the picture, life for Eilis is fine but not ideal nor beautiful. Working in Miss Kelly’s general store, Eilis’s caustic and critical boss is particularly good at making certain customers and her employees feel small. Not wanting to feel small any longer, Eilis turns her eyes on a big trip to America where Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) found her a place to live and a job at a posh department store called Bartocci’s. These are modest beginnings, but they could become the foundation of bigger dreams. Unfortunately, Eilis does not quite notice the figurative foundation, as she feels homesick for The Emerald Isle.
In fact, she mentions to Father Flood, “I wish that I could stop feeling that I want to be an Irish girl in Ireland.”
On the other hand, Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby weave plenty of light moments for Eilis in the form of good company in her boarding house and a potential love interest too. The film’s biggest laughs and other moments of genuine warmth take place in Mrs. Kehoe’s boarding house. Most scenes focus around the dinner table as Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) inquires about Eilis’s (and the other girls’) day. Each time at supper, the young ladies playfully tease each other about dresses, make-up secrets and potential suitors, while Mrs. Kehoe verbally drags them back in line with important nuggets of advice like, “Giddiness is the 8th deadly sin.”
The writing in these scenes is particular strong and important to the overall story arc. While Eilis suffers from massive insecurity about being a stranger in a strange land, her boarding housemates could really sharpen their claws on her vulnerable, porcelain skin. Thankfully, Hornby balances gentle scratches with emotional, warm figurative hugs from her new sisters. These carefully crafted scenes truly bring pure cinematic delight and remind us why we love the movies.
In fact, since “Brooklyn” is set in the early 1950s, the overall tone captures the spirit of films from “yester decade”. Although a curse word may have spoken, I didn’t remember one during the film’s entire 1 hour 51 minute runtime. Everything from automobiles to hairstyles to clothing to a throwback soundtrack to talk of dances, the Brooklyn Dodgers, good manners, and bathing suits called bathing costumes, the film is a complete transport. Helping this time machine trip are stunning uses of costume design with bright forest green overcoats and orange dresses, while sharp cinematography delights our palates with shiny blue skies, a busy metropolis and lush Irish landscapes.
Surely, Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design and Cinematography should find their way to “Brooklyn”, and the lighting - from small, subtle glows in an Irish bedroom where sisters converse to ultra-hot sunlight pouring through a door from a dark Ellis Island checkpoint - perfectly touches the screen. Crowley took so much care with the movie’s visuals, the film’s beauty almost overshadows this grounded story about family.
Family and the all the emotions – responsibility, joy, guilt, heartbreak, difficult choices, understanding, and love – of this complicated “kinship entity” present themselves as the heart of Eilis’s travels, and ultimately, her heart needs to make a choice between two different lives in two different lands. “A River Runs Through It” (1992) - a Scottish family’s story told through their love of fly fishing in Montana - is the closest comparison I can make to “Brooklyn”. Although, the topography of the environments is vastly different, these two form distinct parallels with family and wading through one’s surroundings. Both films are also beautiful, and in the case of “Brooklyn”, it is wonderful to tag the word “beautiful” to an immigrant story told in 2015. (4/4 stars)