Alex’s Rating: 4/5
Going into this movie, I expected a simplistic period piece that would not leave much of an impact. I was wrong. There is a level of depth in Brooklyn that I did not expect. This is not just a placeholder in the Best Picture category, but a worthy contender.
The film takes place in the 1950s as a young Irish woman, Eilis, played by Saoirse Ronan, is trying to find where she can set her roots down. She decides that her home in Ireland is not that place and after being sponsored by a priest in New York City, she travels to America in search of a better life. The story follows Eilis as she adapts to her new world and surroundings, meeting Tony, played by Emory Cohen, a local plumber she falls in love with.
The story separates itself from the average love story due to the hardships that Eilis goes through on her journey. It starts with her in Ireland, working a bad job and failing to find someone to love. Then once she is in America, she has to deal with a different culture and attitude. She learns to adapt, with help of the other women who live in the boarding house with her, teaching her the customs and how to live in Brooklyn. But after things start to go right for Eilis, she learns of her sister’s sudden death, and is forced to return to Ireland to console her grieving mother and lay her sister to rest. This is where the depth and complexity of the story appears. Before she leaves, Tony and Eilis agree to get married, to ensure she has a reason to return to Brooklyn. However, they decide to keep it a secret, and so the entire time Eilis is back in Ireland, she is quietly being pressured to stay. She is even forced into a double date and to hide her secret continues to see the other man, all the while having the inner struggle of wanting to return to America and her husband.
The film found a balance in its tone, managing to keep things from getting too sad or too happy. The emotional highs gave way to shifts in tone and story, as Eilis’ happiness would not be without a struggle. It also managed to provide a romanticized view of post-war America, showcasing a simpler time.
The acting was steady in the film. Ronan did a great job of playing the quiet and shy Eilis, who slowly found confidence in her surroundings. While the performances did not leave a lasting impact, the supporting cast helped maintain the flow of the film, never detracting from the story.
The issue with period films such as this one is the fact that there is a desire to include dated references that the audiences would understand. For instance, when Tony and Eilis go to the movies, they just happen to end up seeing Singing in the Rain, arguably one of the most popular films and musicals from that era. My issue with this is that the film forces itself to make an unnecessary reference to the era for the sake of contemporary audiences. It’s the same issue whenever any movie is set in New York. There has to be that skyline shot of the Empire State Building, or if the film is set before the building is completed, at least a reference to the construction of the building. This film is better than the obvious shout-outs and didn’t need such references to be successful.
Overall, this is a film that expands beyond just a love story. It is an exploration of an era and what life was like in 1950s Brooklyn. It showcases the city through a frosted lens and creates a feeling of nostalgia audiences can relate to. It is a good film and deserves to be in the Best Picture race. It is a film that is perfect for any date and has enough entertainment to satisfy any viewer who dreams of a life in the past.