“Brooklyn”: Homesickness, Love, Identity, Difficult Choices

The accolades for John Crowley‘s Brooklyn, adapted from Colm Tóibín‘s 2009 novel, have been many, but what particularly stands out in the reviews is Saoirse Ronan‘s performance. As Rex Reed, New York Observer, states, “The only thing wrong with Saoirse Ronan is her name, which nobody can pronounce…You pronounce it ‘Ser-sha.’ Repeat 10 times, and don’t forget it. You will certainly remember her acting. At 21, she invades your senses and stays there.”

David Edelstein, Vulture, sets up the film’s plot:

It’s the early 1950s, and the heroine, Eilis (pronounced Eye-liss) Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), seems dislocated everywhere. She’s unable to find a decent job in her hometown of Enniscorthy, in the southeast of Ireland, and she cuts too undemonstrative a figure at dances to attract suitors. (Her best friend is the hot ticket.) Her father is dead, her mother housebound, and her much older sister, Rose, busy with a demanding bookkeeping position. It’s Rose — fearful that Eilis will waste away in this stagnant culture — who arranges with a do-gooder priest (Jim Broadbent) for her sister to move to America, where Eilis will have a job behind a counter at a big department store and a room at a boardinghouse with young Irish ladies like herself. But in the teeming, multicultural Brooklyn, Eilis is so lonely that she freezes when people try to engage her in small talk. She reads letters from her mother and sister and weeps hopelessly.

Although her life in Brooklyn begins to improve, including finding romance, a family tragedy returns her to Ireland—where she then finds yet another suitor.

But Brooklyn Isn’t Just About Romance…

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times:

Rather, ‘Brooklyn’ is about the inevitable but never easy process of deciding who you are and what your life is going to be. As Georgina advises Eilis on the boat over, ‘You have to think like an American. You have to know where you’re going.’ Getting to that place is Eilis’ journey, and being witness to it is both a privilege and a pleasure.

David Edelstein, Vulture: “The film Brooklyn is a study in homesickness, which in this case means you ache for a place that, once upon a time, you were aching to leave.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “‘Brooklyn’ is a story for anyone who has ever left home. It’s a story for those who’ve waffled in indecision, for those forming their identities and forging their own paths.”

And In the End…

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “The magic of ‘Brooklyn’ can’t be analyzed, but something in the richness of its relationships puts an essential truth before us — the brevity and immensity of life. We know all about that, of course, but that’s the beauty of great art: It takes what you already know and makes you feel it.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “…(S)he is no longer who she was, even as she seems like someone we have always known.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “Neither path is wrong. That’s the brilliance of this universal story. Some will surely be disappointed with her choice, but that’s the thing — it’s her choice. Despite everyone’s good intentions, advice and expectations, it’s one that only she can make.”

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