Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: "Brooklyn"

“Brooklyn” is melodramatic, and I mean that as a compliment.

It’s an extremely well-made picture in the tradition of Golden Age director Douglas Sirk, whose films like “All That Heaven Allows” and “Imitation of Life” unabashedly focused on women’s struggles and interior anguish in domestic settings and romantic entanglements. I guess you could call it a “chick flick,” though that usually connotes frivolous movies in the romcom mold.

Though certainly a romantic story, “Brooklyn” is kind-hearted and sober. It’s about a young Irish girl who emigrates to New York City in 1952 and her attempts to integrate into the American life while desperately missing the one she had back home.

Based on a novel by Colm Tóibín, the screenplay is by Nick Hornby (“An Education”) and the film was directed by John Crowley (“Intermission”). It’s one of those movies that if you sit back afterward and enumerate the events, you’ll find that there really isn’t too much to the plot. But the film’s emotional energy, buoyed by a confident lead performance by Saoirse Ronan, gives the story plenty of momentum.

Ellis Lacey is a smart girl who works in shop in a small town. Her father is long dead, mother (Jane Brennan) is getting to an age where she needs looking after and sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) appears ready to shoulder that burden alone, as Ellis dreams of a life away from the tightly bookended one she has.

It’s not that she resents her home, but the endless gossip, carefully stratified classes and seemingly generic pool of young men render it unexciting.

Through the help of a kindly Irish-American priest (Jim Broadbent), she obtains passage to New York, a job at Bartocci’s, an upscale department store, and a room in a boarding house run by a sharp-tongued landlady (the great Julie Walters). Brooklyn of this area was teaming with Irish immigrants, who have their own businesses, social and religious circles, so at first it barely seems like she’s left.

Of course, Ellis is burdened with the guilt of having left her mother and sister alone, which is soon compounded by events. She finds solace in the arms of Tony (Emory Cohen), an Italian-American plumber who has a bit of a Gene Kelly thing going -- looks and geniality, if not musical talent.

(Keep an eye out for young James DiGiacomo as Tony’s kid brother, a born scene-stealer.)

They initiate a tender, halting romance, as Ellis begins to gain confidence and spread her wings as an individual, enrolling in night school on the way to becoming an accountant -- the only woman in her class. But circumstance brings her back to Ireland – only briefly, she insists -- and one of the local lads (sad-eyed Domhnall Gleeson) makes her think of the life she could have had.

It’s a delightful movie, mournful without being sappy and joyous while avoiding maudlin overreach. In the end it’s a simple tale of a young woman finding her way, choosing between two homes that each hold more promise than she initially would’ve guessed.

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