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BEFORE WE BEGIN: This is the general template for what is called a chick flick: A general background situation is established. A young woman finds her "one true love" in that situation until Something Changes. She must adjust to the new situation, which usually comes with the surprise of yet another One True Love, which puts the young woman into conflict. If that conflict pushes the audience to sob their guts out, so much the better. Does director John Crowley's Brooklyn follow that pattern? Yes. Does the screenplay by Nick Hornby based on the novel by Colm Toibin give the story "teeth"? That's critic-speak for "will the men suffer or will they empathize and enjoy the film?" Let us put it simply . . .
IN SHORT: One of the Best of the Year. [Rated PG-13. 111`minutes]
Writing from the male POV, only those teen or very young gentlemen without much relationship experience (which does not mean random "hooking up". It does mean a couple of friendships with or without dating included.) could squirm through this film. We've reached the stage where deeply defined characters and situations and conflicts push a movie from dateflick status to something best labelled a most enjoyable Film (with a capital letter).
The only fault we could find with John Crowley's Brooklyn is that it isn't perfectly apparent what time period this film takes place in. Blink and you will miss an automobile in one of the first shots f the film. Missing that, at first, we thought Brooklyn was a turn of the last century immigration story. Then in a blink and you'll miss it moment it becomes apparent that the time frame is the early 1950s. It was probably seeing a Studebaker (which was a brand of car you may Google) parked on a Brooklyn street that snapped us the proper time. All the pieces of the story fall neatly into place.
Brooklyn begins in Enniscorthy, County Wexford . . . or someplace in southeast Ireland for those readers (and yours Cranky) who left geography lessons behind decades ago. A nasty, judgemental witch named Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan) runs the general goods store in that town. Young Eilis (pronounced A-Lish) Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) has a job there, working a few hours each Sunday, but that doesn't last long when she announces that arrangements have been made for her to emigrate to America. In her dismissal of the girl, Kelly lays down a guilt trip large enough to scuttle any optimistic dreams for a new life in a new land. What Eilis leaves behind is an older [widowed?] sister named Rose (Fiona Glascott), who has financed the voyage and remains behind to care for an aging mother Mary (Jane Brennan). Waiting for Eilis in Brooklyn, New York is a job at a department store and a place in a woman's boarding house operated by a protective and, let us say nicer version of the aforementioned Miss Kelly, named Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters). Mrs. Kehoe is a pseudo-mother figure to Eilis and other giggling or equally shy girls in the house.
Describing Eilis as "equally shy" is an understatement. The girl is painfully shy. She has yet to learn how to smile. Her job as a salesgirl -- at night she takes lessons with the dream of becoming a book keeper and then an accountant -- forces her to deal with the public. She does charity work for the local church, overseen by the priest (Jim Broadbent) who arranged the American end of her passage. She is gently prodded by her boss (Jessica Pare) and slowly becomes a functional adult. Saturday nights are spent at dances held at the local Irish church. It is there that the first radical twist in the story occurs. Eilis is approached by a young man named Tony (Emory Cohen) -- yes, an Italian boy at an Irish dance -- who is lovestruck at first glance. Tony is a plumber who, with brothers in related fields, hopes to one create a construction company and build houses on the barren strip of land hanging from Brooklyn, called Long Island.
Remember, this is the 1950s. Social rules and behavior were very different in this time. Brooklyn takes its time to let a relationship bloom between Eilis and Tony. We watch them date. Her boss and single friends walk her the process of each stage of the dating cycle. They go to the movies. They go to Coney Island -- Eilis has never heard of the concept of "going to the beach." She meets his family, where only a bratty 8 year old brother will say what the rest of the Italian family is thinking ("Italians hate Irish!"). It is all quite delightful.
All of Eilis' experiences are sent home via long letters to her sister and mother. The replies are carried everywhere the girl goes. Even with Tony on her arm, Eilis has not let go of the idea of returning to her homeland. She saves up enough to visit for a month. Before she leaves Tony makes an offer Eilis does not want to refuse. The pair also have sex for the first time in their lives . . . not something done without a paper making the union legal. They just get the order wrong. Miss Lacey becomes Mrs. Fiorello, though Eilis swears not to spill the beans about the marriage when she leaves for Ireland.
The Ireland she returns to is not the place she left. Sister Rose has died, suddenly and unexpectedly. Now Eilis' secret life clashes with a mother's determination to bring her one surviving daughter back home, to a proper Irish marriage and household. The entire town of Enniscorthy comes together to push Eilis into a position that will make her stay in Ireland. It is remarkable that all the people who didn't seem to care at all a year before are now invested in keeping the girl "where she belongs." Of course, all that they know is that Eilis now has accounting skills so a job opens. Her best friend Nancy (Eileen O'Higgins) blind sides Eilis into a double date with a young man named Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson). Jim, like Tony, has big ideas and big aspirations. In his case, though, the entire town seems to have decided that this pairing will become a done deal. Then Nancy suddenly gets married and Eilis' one month stay becomes something longer than a month.
America is thousands of miles away. Eilis has a life there. Eilis now has a life waiting for her back in Ireland. Whether she wants it or not -- Jim is, after all, an Irish boy -- is the lynch pin of this story. Eilis must come to terms with what her life has become.. One more event will threaten to bring the hammer down on her secret but that is for you to see. We can tell you all this because the screenplay has characters so detailed, with actors so talented that any adult will fall head first into this tale. We rarely comment on performances because we expect actors to do their jobs but the work put in by Saoirse Ronan, to turn Eilis from a malleable nothing of a girl into a fully grown woman is remarkable. Ditto Emory Cohen's turn as Tony and the bitter women (which would be Mother and Miss Kelly) determined to make Eilis' life as miserable as theirs.
The strongest endorsement I can give is the one I hinted at several paragraphs ago. As Brooklyn began, I started to dread yet another "chick flick." Brooklyn is far more than that stereotype. It is easily Top Ten material and, as we submerge ourself into the muck that is the Oscar wannabe pool of movies, Brooklyn easily rises to the top of the pile.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Brooklyn, he would have paid . . .
We give the asterisk to all end of year films that we feel will be competing for places on those Best Of lists. Of course, Tony will eventually get his heart broken when the Dodgers leave for Los Angeles in 1957, but that's a different story.
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