I didn’t see John Crowley‘s masterful Brooklyn (Fox Searchlight, 11.4 limited) here in Toronto, but in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago. I had initially watched it on a third-generation dupe DVD, but even under those crummy conditions the internals were unmissable. Brooklyn is a gentle, perfectly judged, profoundly stirring romantic classic — not just set in the early ’50s but shot, timed, cut and performed in a way that approximates the aesthetic standards of that era. It’s an amber time-capsule movie with a pulse and what feels to me like a real Irish heartbeat, and a feeling of things blooming and beginning and modest people trying to do the right thing.
Brooklyn could have been released in ’52 alongside High Noon, Singin’ In The Rain and The Bad and the Beautiful and audiences would have nodded and applauded and said the same things people are saying now — “This is a film I could take my mother to, but it’s good enough to satisfy the toughest, most cynical critics…a rooted love story, a film about decent and believable folk as well as tradition, discretion, real love and 1950s Brooklyn family values.”
A good movie doesn’t have to go wham-bam-kaboom and make audiences go “holy shit!…what just happened?” to earn a seat at the Best Picture table, and this is one such occasion. There’s a time and a place for every kind of film, and thank God an effort like Brooklyn has come along — a fine little reminder of the pleasures of emotional simplicity served up in a low-key, no-bull fashion. Cutting-edge cognoscenti might be looking for something flashier or jizzier but people who know from quality will warm to Brooklyn‘s timelessness. A Best Picture nomination seem assured, as I noted last month.
And there can be no doubt that Saoirse Ronan‘s performance as Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant torn between two nice-guy suitors, is solemn and understated and quietly mesmerizing, and therefore a near-lock for a Best Actress nomination. Ditto Crowley for Best Director and Nick Hornby for Best Adapted Screenplay. Yves Belanger‘s elegant cinematography also warrants a nom.
Brooklyn is basically about young Eilis’s journey from Ireland to America to start a new life, and then falling in love with Tony Firello (Emory Cohen), a kindly Italian plumber of 25 or thereabouts who wants to marry her and build a home and start a family. But then she returns to Ireland to mourn the death of her sister, and soon after feels the pull of the heartland and wonders if she should maybe re-think her situation and stay with her own ones. Should she choose an American future or an Irish past?
I have only two beefs with the entire film.
One involves the pairing of Eilis and Tony — a perfect match that seems right all around. Except during their first date it’s clear that Ronan is a good three or four inches taller than Cohen, and right away you’re thinking “why did they cast such a short guy?” Women generally prefer men who are at least as tall if not taller than their own height, certainly in the ’50s, and yet they cast a guy who could play a jockey or star in a biopic of Pee-Wee Reese. Why? To what end?
The other problem happens at the end of Act Two, and it involves what anyone would call a kind of faithlessness. When Eilis returns to Ireland she starts seeing Domhnall Gleeson‘s Jim Farrell, an eligible, well-dressed young man who is clearly falling in love within minutes of their first meeting. And he’s not the only one. It’s as if the word has gone out to the entire population of Ireland to roll out the red carpet in every way imaginable so as to change Eilis’ mind about marrying Tony the plumber and persuading her to stay.
And as this began to happen I was telepathically saying to Eilis, “Wow, change your mind much? You’ve got a really good guy back in Brooklyn who worships the ground you walk on, and you’re thinking about blowing him off because of a little Irish sentimentality about the homeland? And because Gleeson’s character has money? Flightyness is not an attractive quality, girl.”
Other than these quibbles Brooklyn is as good as this sort of thing gets.