Review: Brooklyn Is An Ode To Love and Longing

By Nguyen Le · December 15, 2015

Tales about home exist in great number, but none are as painterly or as affecting as Brooklyn.

Twenty-something lass Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is about to be a New Yorker, thanks to an arrangement from her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) with the family’s priest (Jim Broadbent). Brooklyn proves to be a brave new world – job and housing opportunities are plentiful, but working at an uptight department store and living in an oppressive boarding house do everything but supply happiness. The proud owner of a dazzling pair of grey-blue eyes and porcelain white skin, Ronan looks fittingly foreign among the Big Apple’s denizens, highlighting the difficulties of integration even amidst the many individuals of her native land calling it home.

Later, Ellis’ silver lining appears in the form of Tony (Emory Cohen). Though clearly bewitched by Cupid, and possessing a fascination with Irish girls (that he later confesses), the young Italian plumber gains top marks for being a gentleman and an all around smile generator. Much like Ronan, Cohen proves to be a noteworthy young talent as evidenced by his choice in roles, which often require significant transformation (in this case a total contrast to the delinquent A.J. in The Place Beyond the Pines). From height to heart, Ronan and Cohen make for a charismatic, charm-coated duo in Brooklyn; their interactions organic and effortless and effectively carry the whole picture.

Also complementing our performers is the direction. Colm Tóibín’s novel, from the plot and the trailers, seems to be right at home alongside Nicholas Sparks, but John Crowley steers the film away from forced emotion and saccharine trappings. Yes, romance and desperation are present, but they’re given just the right level of emphasis and never threaten to take over the film entirely. Here one finds magic in Nick Hornby’s screenplay; its taut quality gives Ellis’ journey a pleasant pace that has audiences swiftly moving through scenes with no details left unseen.

Yves Bélanger provides this year’s most scrumptious big-screen cinematography, aside from perhaps Roger Deakins in Sicario. Much like the direction and writing, the photography stays focused on the subject when so many elements vie for attention, and never abandons the groundedness and humanity inherent to the story. Bélanger’s framing feels similar here to the work of fellow cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel with colors granting us access to the characters and their nuanced emotions. 

And this is to say nothing of the film’s ingenious use of color in Odile Dicks-Mireaux‘s costumes and Michael Brook‘s score. Ellis is always reminded of home, if not by the shades of green in her wardrobe then by a chord of yearning strings (and at one point, a chilling vocal performance of Casadh an Tsúgáin). Both work in tandem with the character – less green is seen as Ellis grows more familiar with the States and the music becomes less sorrowful, only to change again when a tragedy courts her back to Ireland.

In Act 3, Brooklyn fires on all cylinders as all hands on deck (both in front of and behind the camera) coalesce and reveal a social layer beneath its romantic cover. Ellis is now brighter, personality and appearance-wise, than the people in town – her language more confident and her new life the subject of much conversation and gossip. The period abroad has made Ellis a foreigner in her homeland, and with it comes new challenges involving permanent and heartbreaking decisions. By its conclusion, the emotional maelstrom within Ellis rages and Ronan rises to the task with her most memorable performance yet. Much skill is required to display both satisfaction and sadness through the eyes, but at 21 years of age Ronan seems to have mastered the art.

Brooklyn exudes warmth (which is great, because winter has arrived). It's an ode to homesickness and longing that also serves as an essential destination for theater-goers this Holiday season.