Brooklyn, is pretty good, I guess, if you like adorable Irish people and trying super hard not to cry. From director John Crowley, adapted from the Colm Toibin novel by High Fidelity author Nick Hornby, it stars Saoirse Ronan as a Eilis Lacey (that’s EH-lish), a quiet, smart Irish girl who emigrates to the US in the 1940s (guess which city!). Even if you’re not Irish it’s basically a coming of age tale about your grandparents, and as soon as you recognize something personal in it (for me it was Eilis’ eye-talian love interest played by Emory Cohen, managing to seem suave and fashionable even with his pants pulled halfway up to his nipples, simultaneously evoking both my grandfathers) it gets harder and harder not to turn into a blubbering mess at every turn. I felt not just charmed, but beaten. This movie played me like a marionette.
I think I went in half expecting some dour slog about the sad plight of dirty-faced immigrants (The Immigrant, say, which is the relentlessly somber snooze I assume people are thinking of when they say they don’t like period pieces), and instead I got an engrossing love story mixed with a period Irish Facts of Life.
When she arrives in Brooklyn, Eilis moves into a boarding house with four other dishy Irish girls and an irascible, scolding headmistress with whom she eats dinners every night. Incredibly, all of them are believable, and the dinner scenes are consistently laugh-out-loud funny and frequently touching (also, incredible hair). There’s hardly a scene in Brooklyn that isn’t incredibly touching. It’s exhausting. Just when you think you’re done holding it in, there’s a sad old Irishman who built the Brooklyn Bridge singing a heartbreakingly beautiful Irish song in a soup kitchen on Christmas. GREAT JOB, BROOKLYN, THERE’S A GROWN MAN IN THE AUDIENCE CRYING AGAIN, IS THIS WHAT YOU WANTED?
Characters struggle and strive, they stay positive, think big, love deeply and hardly anyone swears or has pre-marital sex. Somehow, it works. The meanest joke in it is about no one wanting to hang out with the new girl at the boarding house, a frizzy-haired ginger whose personality (and accent) is as bracing as her hair. Part of the reason Brooklyn‘s inherent wholesomeness actually works stems from the fact that it mostly depicts a generation the way we want to see them, during a time that seems especially exciting (booming post-war America). Brooklyn‘s other secret, which may not be a secret at all, is that its characters, with the exception of maybe one, are all clever and honest, good people trying to survive and do right by each other (which can sometimes be so hard). A charming movie about charming people, imagine that.
Emory Cohen plays a love-struck, secretly sensitive, sorta meatheadish Italian plumber perfectly, with Domhnall Gleeson as his upright Irish bartender counterpart. With, of course, Saoirse Ronan holding down the fort the whole way through. I never appreciated her before, and I think I subconsciously held Atonement against her (I HATE Atonement), but she’s charm personified here. She has the ability to make her face read skeptical while her big blue eyes scream romantic, a truly endearing combo.
Brooklyn doesn’t need to turn anyone (almost anyone) into an evil villain; being torn between two worlds is conflict enough. Brooklyn makes you feel that conflict, even if you’ve never experienced it yourself (can Nick Hornby adapt every novel from now on?). In stereotypical Irish fashion, Brooklyn‘s true villain is generational guilt (it’s also stereotypically Italian, Catholic, Jewish… actually, Mom guilt is probably pretty universal).
Brooklyn drives home the true difficulties of emigration without anyone having to join street gangs or turn tricks or cough blood into worn handkerchiefs. Without going to just about any of the cliché places these kinds of stories normally go. Emigration is hard, but not tragic, liberating, but not without sacrifice, and at a certain point, inexorable.
I’m not usually drawn to things that make me cry (stop calling me, Dave) but with Brooklyn I see the appeal. A movie this sweet and bighearted makes you feel not just entertained, but like you’re a better person just for liking it. Even if you’re just some asshole who happens to be watching a really good movie. And Brooklyn is close to perfect.
Release Date: Brooklyn is set to hit theaters November 6th.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.