Early on in John Crowley’s Nick Hornby scripted film adaptation of Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, the director wisely let’s his camera linger on star Saoirse Ronan’s face while at a neighborhood dance where her BFF Nancy has nabbed a man on the dance floor and Eilis is once again left to ponder whether there will ever be anything or anyone to keep her in Ireland. Ronan, whose performance would be a revelation if she hadn’t already proven herself as a wee lass in Atonement, completely and subtly commands the camera and the audience, the slight tensing of her neck tendons, the nuanced flint in her eyes, that almost imperceptible sigh. The whole plight of everyone who has ever wondered what else might be out there is written on her face. And off to America…and to Brooklyn…Eilis goes. Brooklyn is blessed by a few of these very smart moments, and also by a lot of clichéd ones. There’s really not much suspense in guessing our heroine’s fate, but there are moments of sincere heartache and gentle beauty.
Brooklyn is ostensibly a sweet simple film about a sweet simple girl who finds herself longing to be two places at once. The deepest thought comes courtesy of one of Eilis’ sassy boarding house mates, who while passing her in the bathroom waxes coolly and philosophically about dreaming of marriage, and then years from now waiting for some bullish man to finish reading the paper in her bathroom and wishing she was back there in that moment talking to Eilis.
The film is impeccably acted by Ronan (and the rest of the cast, even the normally insufferable Emory Cohen, who admittedly I still wanted to punch in the face the second he opened his mouth, is also up to task), competently directed, and beautifully shot. It’s charmingly old-fashioned, quaintly humorous, with a wonderful attention to the early 1950’s detail of both booming Brooklyn and bucolic Ireland. Back home everyone was waiting for life to happen to them, while Eilis found a new home in America where people were creating their own lives. It’s honest to not only this particular Irish-in-US immigrant experience, but to the universal experience of the wandering human heart.
Yet much like Eilis so perceptively wondered while at that parish dance at the film’s onset…certainly there must be something more out there?
Written by David H. Schleicher