Every now and then a film comes along that offers a sense of connection and a reminder that it’s important to be happy where you are in life, with what you have, with whom you are. BROOKLYN the movie, which starts tomorrow, is one such film. It’s a story originally written by Com Toibin, with a deeper purpose, and its film adaptation by Nick Hornby does its story justice.
I moved to New York City in my 20s, just as the main character, Ellis (pronounced Ay-liss) does. Her circumstances are very different to my own – I came to NYC as a theater lover who had big dreams of working in television. I brought one suitcase with everything I owned inside. My mother tried her hardest to persuade me not to come and leave our home in Atlanta, Georgia. I was the last to leave home, and the one she fought hardest to keep. I came here knowing no one other than my eldest sister, who took me under her wing and helped me acclimate to my new life. It was one that was exciting, to say the least, but it was very different to how I was raised, and it was far from home. I missed my mother dearly; I worried about her and visited often. I had always been a big city girl living in the south but I needed to break out of my shell.
In the movie, Ellis (played wonderfully by Saoirse Ronan – remember this name) moves to Brooklyn after her sister, Rose, makes her living and work arrangements through a Priest (played by the always fabulous Jim Broadbent). I came via plane; of course, Ellis travels via a long boat ride during which she is painfully ill and frightened. When she arrives, she has a job waiting for her in a department store and a room in a boarding house with other Irish immigrant girls. Ellis is plain, so at first they mock her and I could feel her pain and loneliness. She misses home – which is easy to understand – after all, it is Ireland. She is desperately homesick and does not at first consider Brooklyn home.
But as times goes by, things change. The Priest signs her up for night school at Brooklyn College so she can study bookkeeping, taking after her sister, Rose, and begins to shine as a result. She makes excellent grades, prompting her landlord (played by magnetic Julie Walters no less) to show off excessively about her to the girls, creating a tinge of jealousy. But when she meets a boy – Tony, played by Emory Cohen, everything changes. He’s a simpleton – a plumber from an Italian background – and you wouldn’t expect them to click. But they do. They fall hard and madly in love and Brooklyn starts to feel like home. He takes her to see “Singing in the Rain,” to his house to meet his parents and eat a bowl of pasta, for walks in Central Park.
But there is a plot twist, and I hate to reveal too much at this point in the review. Midway through the film, Ellis is forced to return to Ireland and must make some very big decisions. She must really dive into her soul and evaluate where she sees herself down the road, and for a moment I didn’t know the path she would choose. But I do know that Ellis finds home in the end and never sheds her dignity or her identity in the process.
The film portrays 1950s Brooklyn in all its gritty glory, from the set to costumes. Brooklyn was not what it is today, but I got a definite sense that it was home to so many immigrants coming in through Ellis Island, starting their lives over like Ellis. As a New Yorker, I recognized locations such as Coney Island, where Ellis and Tony go on a romantic date, where she shows him the most skin she has ever showed a boy in her life, and remembered what it was like for me as a new New Yorker going there for the first time.
Saorise Ronan is perfect as the lead. Her looks are slightly plain, but more beautiful, and as her character’s happiness develops in the film, so did my affection for her. Her eyes are most expressive (even under the hip sunglasses her character wears) and take us to her most inner feelings of pain and turmoil when they need us to go there with her. She is definitely an actress to be on the lookout for and is on my radar. I must also give a shout out to Domhnall Gleeson, who plays a pivotal role in this film, and an actor I admire very much.
Of course, I want to send a final kudos to John Crowley, the film’s director, and Nick Hornby, who wrote the screenplay. The script, pace, music and cinematography perfectly meshed the film’s dramatic edge.
The end result may make you appreciate where you are in life. BROOKLYN will remind you that home is where you make it and that there is truly no place like it, and that is always a good reminder to have.
Find a theatre where Brooklyn is playing near you here.
Disclosure: This post is made possible by support from Fox Searchlight Pictures. All opinions are my own.