Brooklyn: A TIFF Movie Review

Brooklyn Movie Poster from imdb.com
Brooklyn Movie Poster from imdb.com

Living in Toronto, the fourth most populous city in North America, means that a lot of the world comes to us!  This is the case with TIFF (the Toronto International Film Festival). Now in its 40th year, TIFF is recognized as one of the world’s most important film festivals along with the Venice, Cannes, Sundance, and Berlin film festivals.

IMG_2063This week I was lucky enough to get rush tickets to see Brooklyn, based on Colm Toibin’s 2009 best-selling novel, with screenplay by Nick Hornby (An Education, Wild) and direction by John Crowley (Intermission).  John Crowley was at the screening for a couple of minutes to introduce the movie, already screened at Sundance, as one about ‘family, memory, and making a new life’.

Brooklyn is my favorite movie this year.  It is beautifully filmed and emotionally portrayed, with innocently funny moments.   Brooklyn closely mirrors the book as the story of the immigrant experience; mid-20th century life; and love, family, and choices.

From FoxSearchlight.com
From FoxSearchlight.com

Without giving away too much, Brooklyn follows its heroine Eilis (pronounced ay-lish and played by Saoirse Ronan) from small-town Ireland, and the home she shares with her mother and sister, to Brooklyn where Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) has arranged work and an Irish boarding house for her.  Eilis is lucky to have Father Flood taking care of her, guiding and comforting her. When tragedy strikes and Eilis goes back to Ireland, she must make a decision about where home is.

In Brooklyn, we see Eilis’ experience as an immigrant whose work and housing is pre-arranged.  Her experience is not so much a physical journey as an emotional one where she has reluctantly left her mother and sister back in Ireland in order to  have a better future. Homesickness sets in and, based on Father Flood’s suggestion, she immerses herself in bookkeeping studies at Brooklyn College and attends parish dances where she meets Tony, an Italian-American, with whom she falls in love.  Her homesickness is amplified when she serves Christmas dinner to retired Irish immigrants who have built the bridges and tunnels in America yet don’t have a home to return to in Ireland. Like her fellow immigrants, Eilis feels that her body is in Brooklyn, but that her heart is in Ireland.

Scene from Brooklyn (2015) from Tiff.net
Scene from Brooklyn (2015) from Tiff.net

Through Eilis’ acclimation to American life, we see modern history in the making.  Colored people are welcome at Bartocci’s, the upscale department store where Eilis works.  Women are working and making choices about getting married or continuing to work.  Televisions are coming into the home. And, baseball is the American pastime, with New York being home to three baseball teams in the ’50s: the Dodgers (Tony’s favorite team), the Yankees, and the Giants.

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn (2015). Photo from Rotten Tomatoes.com
Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn (2015). Photo from Rotten Tomatoes.com

When tragedy strikes and Eilis goes back home, she seems to settle back in better than she expected.  Her time in America means a new-found confidence and level of maturity. She finds herself wishing that she had never left and wondering if she ever would have left– had her life been as good as it is now, upon her return visit from America.  Eilis allows herself to be in a relationship, takes a part-time job, and even postpones her return to Brooklyn. Her mother desperately wants her to stay in Ireland.  The movie helps you empathize with Eilis’ feelings about her two worlds.  Only when an encounter forces her to see life as it really is in Ireland, does she realize where home is.

Saoirse Ronan & Domhnall Gleeson in Brooklyn (2015). Photo from Variety.com
Saoirse Ronan & Domhnall Gleeson in Brooklyn (2015). Photo from Variety.com

The film is shot in mainly greens, reds, and blues, from the clothing to the furnishings to the street and building scenes.  I don’t know if the use of greens and orange-y reds is to evoke Irish colors, but they are calming and allow the viewer to focus on the emotions of the actors.

Saoirse Ronan’s performance has been called awards-worthy and I agree. Eilis initially comes across as somewhat passive but blossoms along the way. Emory Cohen plays Italian-American Tony with such purity and innocence that you are rooting for him from his first scene.  And, Domhnall Gleeson (Harry Potter; Unbroken) is equally calm and sincere helping the viewer understand Eilis’ dilemma.

Finally, the last scene of the movie, which is not in the book, is both touching and hopeful in its message to fellow immigrants about heart and home (remember that I can’t spoil the movie for you).  You are happy for Eilis.

Brooklyn is slated to open in November in North America.  I hope you go to see it!  Here is the trailer:

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