(John Crowley, 2015)
To this particular Irish emigre, Brooklyn seems so Irish in a multitude of ways; in its mixture of repression and melancholy, its often hysterical humour, its gentle beauty and, perhaps most of all, in its surging undertow of strong emotion.
It tells the defining Irish story of the 20th century: the story of a young person emigrating to America. Eilish (Saoirse Ronan, as brilliant here as ever, and making a serious play for the undisputed title of finest actress of her generation) has little future n Enniscorthy, Wexford, and so she leaves her sister and mother behind for a new life. In Brooklyn she lives in a boarding house for single Irish girls, policed by fearsome, hilarious landlady Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters, brilliant) and spends her days working in a department store. At first her loneliness and homesickness are cripplingly painful, but eventually the kindly priest who arranged her emigration (Jim Broadbent, joint the Tom Cruise school of awful Irish accents but otherwise beautifully gentle) sets her up with night school classes in book-keeping and she meets a kind, sweet young Italian boy, Tony (Emory Cohen) at a dance. But sudden tragedy at home means she has to return, and while there she realises her prospects have changed, and Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) challenges Tony's place in hr affections.
Nick Hornby's script is a sensitive, nuanced adaptation of Colm Toibin's novel, and Crowley's direction of it is exquisitely measured and careful. He isolates Eilish in frames in her early days in Brooklyn, small, pale and mouselike amidst the colour and bustle and brashness of America. Ronan understands this and she plays Eilish's slow flowering with lovely subtlety; it's in her body language, in her sudden readiness to smile. The visuals also depict the difference between the starkness of Ireland and the busy New World adeptly; the colours in Ireland are pale, chilly, catholic. America seems warm and bursting with life.
All of this only amplifies the quandary that becomes the emotional crux of the film: Eilish and her choice of men and futures. She is smarter and more sensitive than lovely Tony, but he represents a new start, away from the gossip and small-mindedness of Enniscorthy. Jim - played by Gleeson as a quiet, watchful man - is perhaps better-suited to her, but he has the baggage of her past in his wake.
the film allows both of them to be sympathetic, and the draw of home and her mother only makes the decision harder for Eilish and the audience. Michael Brook's beautiful score really earns its money in that last act, as that surge of emotion kicks in.
Its perhaps a shame that it takes so long for stakes to raise to that level, as early on things tend to drag somewhat, but this is generally a lovely, little film, and what it does, it does very well.