VIFF Review: Brooklyn

It turns out if you cast charming people in a charming story, you’ll end up with a charming movie. Who knew?

It’s the 1950s, and even though she’s incredibly bright, Eilis Lacey can’t make enough money because she can’t find a job. Her sister arranges an acquaintance, a priest living in Brooklyn, to sponsor her immigration to America. What follows is –as you’d imagine– a quiet coming of age tale about a young woman coming into her home, learning to follow her heart, and figuring out where her true home really is.

2015 Vancouver International Film Festival

It’s definitely a story you’ve seen before but with just enough variations to keep it interesting. Moreover, the cast is all great. Saoirse Ronan is all grown up and her performance as Eilis, who goes from being a wallflower to a strong-willed woman, is fantastic. There’s so much subtlety and nuance in her body language and face that you can always tell there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface.

Relative newcomer Emory Cohen (you may have seen him in _The Place Beyond The Pines_ or _The Gambler_) also shines as the blue-collar Italian boy Eilis falls for in America. He wears his heart on his sleeve in the best way possible, working with the admittedly schmaltzy dialogue his character is afforded. Domhnall Gleeson is also here as the other love interest back home in Ireland. He’s also good, as he usually is, and manages to set himself apart from the other lads back home.

Also around for the ride are Jim Broadbent as the priest who helps Eilis come to America, and Julie Waters as the boarding house owner where Eilis lives. They’re both perfect for their roles, both heartfelt and hilarious.

As I left the screening, I overheard two women complaining that Eilis didn’t have any real agency in the film, and while I disagree that that’s the case, I can certainly see how it might be read that way. Eilis spend much of the movie trying to not disappoint the people around her, and that might come off as her being unable to make a decision, but in reality, she’s just making decisions to keep the people around her happy rather than herself.

Brooklyn is a charming movie about charming people and set in a charming version of 1950s post-war America where people could still move there with nothing and end up with everything. It’s a bit nostalgic, a bit funny, and a lot sweet. And charming, did I mention charming?