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Blu-Ray Review: Brooklyn

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Not everyone may have paid attention to a rather interesting predicament in the career of Nick Hornby, one of Britain’s most brilliant contemporary writers. The prolific author, who has penned best-selling novels such as High Fidelity and About A Boy, has also forged a peculiar parallel path adapting books written by other fellow novelists into screenplays, whereas other screenwriters/filmmakers have actually brought his novels to the silver screen.

Brooklyn is indeed the latest credit on Hornby’s screenwriting CV (which includes 2009’s An Education and 2014’s Wild). Adapted from Colm Tóibín’s novel which tells the story of a young Irish girl in the 1950s leaving her homeland to seek a better life in New York City, the film is directed by John Crowley (2007’sBoy A) and stars the wonderful Saoirse Ronan who, along with Hornby and the film itself, was nominated at this year’s Academy Awards.

As it receives a timely home entertainment release right after this interminable awards season finally comes to a close, there’s no denying how Brooklyn has been the lovable underdog that, albeit not taking home any gold from Hollywood, still managed to earn a BAFTA for Best British Film and definitely brought lots of attention to all the talent involved.

Saoirse Ronan is a pleasure to watch as our graceful heroine Ellis Lacey, a beautiful and kind young girl from an Irish village who lives with her widowed mother and her older sister. Ellis works at a shop owned and run by an utterly unpleasant old lady and she yearns for a better life. So when her sister gets her a job in New York City through an Irish priest who lives there and helps immigrants moving to America, Ellis, albeit intimidated by the long distance, sails off to New York to start a new life.

Adjusting to this new world is not as smooth as the exciting prospect might’ve made it look like from afar. Ellis settles in a girls’ house run by Mrs. Keogh (the always brilliant Julie Walters), a conservative but lovely lady whose witty commentary on the girls’ lives when chatting with them at the dinner table is always hilarious. But as time passes, Ellis has a hard time working at a department store, caught up in her homesickness-induced melancholia, which makes it challenging for her to interact with customers in the friendly, charming ways her job requires.

I haven’t read the novel but it wasn’t that hard to imagine how the turning point in Ellis’ American experience would be meeting someone special. One night, although not enthused by the prospect, she attends a rather tame dance at her parish hall, with the hope of socialising and that’s where she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a handsome Italian-American young man who invites her to dance and the rest is history. Feeling for the first time at ease away from home, Ellis also starts taking evening college classes to become an accountant just like her sister but right when things are going her way, an unexpected tragedy strikes at home and she has to return to Ireland. She promises Tony she’ll only stay a month and come back to New York since her life is there now, yet once in Ireland, the emotional impact of what happened to her family makes her certainties crumble and of course she meets another man, Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), who falls for her instantly and puts her feelings for Tony to the test.

If this all sounds a bit soapy, that’s because it kind of is but the filmmakers and cast cleverly interpret the material in charming fashion, telling the story earnestly. Brooklyn is the period coming-of-age tale of a young woman having to make mature choices that will define her life and it’s a truthful portrait of immigration as the complex and multi-layered phenomenon that continues to affect our lives today.

Having left my homeland a decade ago to move to America and now living in London, I know a thing or two about what Ellis goes through and how she feels in this deeply emotional film, including when tragedy strikes back home. Yet it was extremely intense to think about how in that day and age there was no technology to fill the distance gap and that letters were the only excruciatingly long method of communication.

Saoirse Ronan is absolutely perfect at capturing Ellis’ growth and change as life tests her spirit several times. She believably goes from naïve, inexperienced young girl with no prospect to strong and confident young woman who accepts how life is made of choices and takes responsibility for her own. Emory Cohen confirms the talent displayed in films like Afterschool (2008) and The Place Beyond The Pines (2013), winning you over as the sweet, gentlemanly, romantic Italian plumber with no education but a lot of heart. Gleeson is always good and of course at ease playing an Irish man in his native land but I dare anyone not to root for Tony.

John Crowley directs gracefully as usual and his ability to lead his cast into delivering authentic and emotionally effective performances is probably his forte. Stripped to its backbone, Brooklyn is an actors’ film and the focus is on the character’s journey. The production values are solid but lack the kind of vibrancy that made a film set in the same period like Carol stand out this awards season. Having seen it for the first time on DVD, frankly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Brooklyn had actually been a BBC miniseries rather than a feature. That’s most likely its biggest limit, the lack of the epic cinematic scope you’d have expected from an Oscar-nominated tale of immigration and romance. Yet it’s still worth the ride and the Blu-Ray/DVD include deleted scenes, interviews with cast and crew and a making-of-featurette that make for an entertaining post-feature watch.

3-out-of-5

Brooklyn is out now in the UK on Blu-Ray/DVD/VOD

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