Can You Go Back Home? Reviewing 'Brooklyn'
by Will Lindus
I realize, from word one, that this review is fighting an uphill battle. Coming-of-age period dramas aren’t typically known for sending mainstream movie audiences flocking to the theaters in droves, and I can certainly understand why; not all films are made for all people. That said, if you’re the type of person who can appreciate gorgeous filmmaking, delicate storytelling, and themes that tug at the heart with a wistful yearning, then you should absolutely make a date with the ever-charming Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is a vivid period piece that follows a young Irish immigrant as she travels to the United States in the 1950s. There, she finds true love, and has to balance her new life in America against the gentle pulling to return home to her tiny, rustic Irish village. The typical period piece is often washed in a color palette designed to evoke the time period. Instead of the standard drab and dreary browns typically found in mid-century urban tales, Brooklyn allows its characters to dress in vibrant outfits which compliment the film’s rich and beautiful production design.
Saoirse Ronan is revelation in the leading role of Eilis, dominating nearly every moment of the film’s 111 minute runtime. She carries herself with a vulnerability that never comes across as utter weakness, a tenderness that never approaches saccharine, and a strength that is fueled by an intriguing combination of determination and selfishness. This is an impressive blend of character traits and, simply put, this film would not work without Ronan’s commanding performance. From her voice to her looks to her expressiveness to her ability to capture the subtext of a scene, Ronan is perfectly cast here.
Thematically, Brooklyn explores the familiar adage that preaches that ‘you can’t go home again.’ Despite being set 60+ years in the past, this concept resonates even today. There exists this awkward transitional period that occurs sometime in your early twenties, during that time when you first start to feel like a quasi-adult. You have bills, you have responsibilities, and you’ve started carving out a place in life, a path all your own. Sure, you may return to your childhood home for holidays and family visits, but for the first time, your old nest no longer feels like home. It’s a strange feeling, both longing for the familiarity of your childhood while knowing that you can never return to the way things once were.
Brooklyn reflects on this experience elegantly, allowing only a tinge of melancholy to seep through the cracks. Eilis establishes a life uniquely hers, and when faced with the specter of her former life in Ireland, her struggle feels so very relatable. The film is not jaded in the slightest; neither of the choices set before Eilis are fully maligned nor lionized. At times, this rounds the edges off of the film, perhaps undercutting some of the escalating emotional tension by making the stakes feel inconsequential. Still, the good outweighs the bad, and this balanced approach allows for personal rumination as the credits roll.
Light, sweet, and airy, it would be easy to disregard Brooklyn as nothing more than a meringue of a film, the type of movie that only finds an audience amongst the arthouse cinema crowd, or as a treat for when your mother is in town and you are looking for an excuse to get her out of the house for a few hours. While those crowds will certainly love this film, painting it with such a broad brush would be a mistake; with universal themes and a brilliant turn by Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn has a wider appeal than might be at first suspected. If you’re willing to take a chance on a property that isn’t a franchise film or a blockbuster, Brooklyn is highly recommended.
4 out of 5 Bear Paws