This was a film released in 2015 and therefore will not qualify for any best-of/worst-of lists for 2016.
To prepare for Oscars season, nominated films that were only under ‘limited release’ previously are sometimes brought to this fair city of Fredericton to capitalize on the new buzz. Such was the case with “Brooklyn,” the film that was independently funded through so many channels that there is literally about 5-10 different logos at the top of the film. For God sakes, it even states that part of the film was funded with National Lottery winnings! To summarize, the movie was nothing close to mainstream and was made on a fairly small budget (though it is not evident when watching the film).
Everything paid off. This was a wonderful film with a sweet story at its center about being a small fish in a big pond and the culture shock one experiences when leaving home to experience life under new surroundings. It’s not a new story and it’s been done time and time again so when films take on a plot like this, the important thing to focus on is if it is being done in an original manner. This film is guilty of that accomplishment. The way in which the story unfolds is almost devoid entirely of cliches that you would normally see in a film like this, no one is conveniently in the locations where they must be in order to move the plot forward, there are no cutesy kids (though there is one child character but he is portrayed in a realistic manner), and the film progresses in a way that is not entirely predictable.
The basic story is this: Irish-born Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) heads to America for a better life thanks to her pastor, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) and with the support of her sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott) and mother (Jane Brennan). While in Brooklyn, she ends up staying at a boarding house and then meeting and falling in love with a young Italian named Tony (Emory Cohen). When a tragic event in Ireland forces her to go back home, she must decide whether she wants to live her new life in America or remain in Ireland where she can be with her family and friends.
The acting is a very strong aspect of the film. Ronan is an excellent lead and fully deserves the recognition she’s received at the Oscars this year. She is pensive, yet charming and is a character that you end up loving so much that when it appears that she may do something daunting, you beg and plead that she thinks better of it. I can’t say too much about that without spoiling it. Emory Cohen is also very good as the Italian heartthrob who romances her. He is funny, shy, and boisterous all at the same time. They are a very good match and the two performers have tons of chemistry with each other. Domhnall Gleason (is that guy in everything?!) does well as another possible suitor but it is Julie Walters who probably stands out as the best supporting character. As a sort of “den mother” at the boarding house in Brooklyn, she is both strong yet supportive and a devoutly religious figure as well. She also gets some of the film’s biggest laughs.
The art department needs to be given all of the awards. From the costumes to the scenery to the colours to the cinematography (I know that last one is not directly in the art department) this film’s aesthetics are simply beautiful. In regards to Ronan, she is always wearing the brightest colours (except for key moments which make sense related to the scene) and she stands out more than anyone else. The film being a period piece also allows for some beautiful vintage elements to stand out like the cars, the buildings, and even some of the props were perfectly constructed for the film. The cinematography is also quite stunning with the lighting and the way in which colours are portrayed being such a strong element in the film. The biggest example of this is Eilis arriving in Brooklyn for the first time and entering the country through a large blue door to a beautiful sea of light as if to give her a glimmer of hope for her future in this strange new land. The fact that this film is not nominated for any of these things is a crime.
Brooklyn is a wonderful film free of cliches and full of wonderful writing, acting, cinematography, and art direction. A sure-fire winner.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)