Reel Talk: “Brooklyn” and Superb, Very Well-Acted Period Romance
Based on the novel by Colm Tóibín—who presented the Steloff Lecture at Skidmore a few weeks ago—Brooklyn translates incredibly well to the screen. The plot is centered around an Irish immigrant who finds romance in 1950s Brooklyn, only to be complicated by trouble back home. The film is a sumptuous period piece with a lot of substance and heart. Directed with competence by up-and-comer John Crowley, and staring Saoirse Ronan, Domnhall Gleason, and a breakthrough performance by Emory Cohen, everybody does great work, which helps to elevate this film above a simple love story.
While almost every aspect of this film is done well, Saoirse Ronan carries the entire piece as Eilis, an immigrant who at first struggles to adjust to her life in America. Deceptively simple on the surface, her emotions and naiveté are palpable, and never overshadow her strength and determination. Her transformation as she slowly falls in love is beautiful to watch, and her heartbreak and hesitation as she is forced to temporarily return home, add even more layers to her performance. It’s some of the best work she’s ever done—and that’s saying a lot, even though she’s only 21—and cements her place as one of the most talented young actresses working today. She is all but guaranteed a very deserving Oscar nomination come January.
One of the best parts of the film, too, is watching Ronan and Cohen’s characters slowly but surely fall in love with each other. Their chemistry is enigmatic and exciting, and Cohen does excellent work as Tony, the admirable first-generation American who, thanks to Cohen’s performance, is actually pretty complex. A bit shy, a bit pushy, a bit charming, a bit romantic, Cohen adds layers to Tony’s character to make him likeable but flawed, and turns in a truly genuine performance.
In fact, everybody in this film is incredible. Domnhall Gleason once again plays an everyman-type—attempting to sweep Eilis off her feet once she returns to Ireland—but manages to do so without seeming typecast by brining something different to every performance. His hesitation and yearning add a layer of pity and humanity to his character, making Eilis’s affection towards him all the more believable. Julie Walters is also fantastic and hysterical, and the sharp-tongued head of Eilis’s boarding house easily gives her best performance since the Harry Potter franchise.
Rounding out the cast are Jim Broadbent, Jessica Paré, Emily Bett Rickards, Eve Macklin, Nora-Jane Noone, Fiona Glascott, and Jane Brennan, all who do solid work.
Lastly, the below-the-line aspects of this film are nearly perfect: Odile Dicks-Mireaux’s bright, classy costume design, striking and colorful cinematography by Yves Bélanger, and gorgeous, nostalgic production design by François Séguin all make the film visually stunning and pleasing to look at.
If you like period pieces or romances of any type, you really will not be disappointed by Brooklyn, which—if it means anything—turned out way better than I was expecting it to be, and I had already had pretty decent expectations.
Overall: 8.5 out of 10.