Brooklyn (Fox Searchlight Pictures, PG-13)

Brooklyn 75The pleasures to be had in Brooklyn creep up on you.




Brooklyn 500

Though I like him as a novelist well enough, I’m starting to think that Nick Hornby is better suited to being a screenwriter. Strong evidence of this came in the form of 2009’s An Education, which I named as the best film of that year. Since then he’s done interesting work on last year’s Wild, and has now written the screenplay for the film adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn, which bears some mostly surface similarities to An Education. It’s those similarities that make me interested in Hornby as a screenwriter—he’s emerging as a scribe who writes strong, compelling, female-driven films, feasts for good actors and actresses, and featuring lots of interesting and funny dialogue. (Odd, this film predilection for female leads, as Hornby is best known as the author of the laddie book High Fidelity, which I also enjoy.)

Brooklyn is about an Irish girl named Eilis (pronounced “Aylish,” and played by Saoirse Ronan, who’s probably been waiting for a part like this to come along her whole professional career) who emigrates to America circa the 1950s, as she finds her home in Ireland has little to offer her in terms of job prospects, love interests, or overall happiness. Now, to be fair, I can be a bit of a sucker for coming of age movies, and also for movies set in New York, so this film wasn’t a hard sell for me. And indeed, I wasn’t that into the film until Eilis makes it to Brooklyn and starts coming of age, which takes about 30 minutes of the film’s runtime to get to.

The pleasures to be had in Brooklyn creep up on you. For the most part, it isn’t one of those films that has knockout scenes or amazing set pieces or anything like that; instead, you’ll find joy in the chemistry between the actors, the charm of the characters, and amusement of the dialogue. It isn’t a flawless film—it’s aesthetically questionable some of the time, and its sense of time is confusing at best. But these complaints for the most part are inconsequential.

As Eilis starts to lay roots in America, she gets a job in a glamorous department store (run by Mad Men’s Jessica Paré, playing a character not far off from her Megan Draper), starts going to night school to become a bookkeeper like her admired older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), and attracts the attentions of a sweet Italian boy named Tony (a very good Emory Cohen). But even as she adapts to the American way, this is a film with a theme of cultural displacement—when she’s in Ireland Eilis sees America as being home, but when she’s in America she sees Ireland as being home. (And not for nothing does she become involved with a boy who is not American nor Irish.) It’s this richness that help to elevate Brooklyn above being merely pretty good; not for nothing is there awards buzz behind this film. | Pete Timmermann

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