Synopsis: A young Irish woman emigrates to Brooklyn in the pre-hipster 1950s.
Brooklyn is not the story of hipsters in the ascendant New York City borough. Instead it gives us the story of a young Irish emigre who may make this place her home. Whether she can or should put down roots there is the film’s question.
Colm Toibin’s novel explored the vulnerabilities and hardships of establishing one’s self so far from home and family. Screenwriter Nick Hornby delivers deft dialogue that crackles with humor. And Saoirse Ronan as our stalwart and charming subject? She’s almost too talented; the subtle play of emotion on her face and how she inhabits her character, Eilis, has you figuratively walking right beside her. The only problem I have with her is that I really need to concentrate to pronounce her name properly! Which brings us to Irish names… Supposedly her name is pronounced Seer sha. And her character’s name, Eilis, according to the Internet, is Aylish. When I read the book, I was too lazy to look up how the name should sound, and I read it as Ellis. Come on Gaelic language, get with the program! Your alphabet is missing letters (j, k, q, v, w, x, y, z) and your vowel sounds are all mixed up. For example, the author’s surname, Toibin, is pronounced Toe bean.
Alright, back to the Emerald Isle, where our heroine Aylish toils for the county’s cruelest woman at a small grocery. The witch delights in insulting customers and berating poor Aylish. Enter two fairy godparents: Aylish’s older sister, a local bookkeeper and an avuncular Irish priest currently posted in New York City. (The priest is given full dimension by Jim Broadbent…so brilliant as Prof. Slughorn in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!) They arrange for Aylish to travel to America and lodge at a boarding house presided over by a Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters aka Mrs. Weasley from Harry Potter) and to work as a sales clerk at a department store, all in, yes, Brooklyn.
After a sad goodbye to her mum and sister, Aylish has a rough crossing of the Atlantic but she meets a savvy and fashionable Irish woman onboard who teaches her how to tell someone to “Feck off!” if necessary.
Once in Brooklyn, we follow this naive Irish lass as she does everything she should: getting to know the other boarders, working hard and taking classes. But she is weighed down by a terrible homesickness. We see great waves of sadness spontaneously wash over her, telegraphed so honestly by her facial expression and exhausted posture. We have to believe that her sister and the priest know that she is bright enough and strong enough to make it through.
She begins to find her feet and then her spark when she meets a young Italian-American man, Tony, at a local dance full of other Irish folk. He asks her to dance and shyly confesses that “I like Irish girls.” I thought that sounded a little fetishy but she agrees to date him and he turns out to be a swell guy who makes an honest living as a plumber and treats his girl like a queen. He also initiates her into not only a world of romance, but into Americana; taking her to Coney Island and schooling her in baseball fandom.
No spoilers, but Aylish must temporarily return to Ireland. She promises Tony that she will return. While there she finds a good temporary job and her best friend introduces her to Jim, a fine man about to inherit his family’s small business. Jim is played by Domhnall Gleeson. By the way, I saw a Youtube video where he says that his name rhymes with ‘tonal.’ I am glad that in Brooklyn his name is just ‘Jim.’ Anyway, he’s a good actor and I was glad that yet another person in the movie has a Harry Potter connection (Bill Weasley, dragon trainer).
You can almost see the wheels turning in Aylish’s head: Team Tony or Team Jim?
Please understand that all who see this film, must also choose whether they are Team Tony or Team Jim. Tony is cute with his big brown puppy dog eyes. But also, Jim is cute with his fiery red hair. Tony is so sincere and level headed…but so is Jim! Believe me, it will not be an easy decision for you or Aylish.
Alas, I must sign off so that I can have a nice cup of tea and you can watch the movie.
Cut to the Chase: Beautiful. See it!
Comedy Highlight: Mrs. Weasley, the landlady, presiding over her dinner table. At one point she informs the young women that A giddy girl is every bit as evil as a slothful man. Indeed.