Jan 20, 2016 Film & TV
If your mum’s birthday is coming up, book tickets for Brooklyn now. Same goes double for grandmothers. With its period setting filled with lilting Irish brogues and a love story that’s relatively chaste throughout (although, be warned: there is one brief but unambiguous sex scene), Brooklyn is ideal earlybird-session bait.
Condescending, I know. And unfair — this charming tale, featuring a stellar central performance by Saoirse Ronan, will resonate equally with younger crowds, in particular with anyone who has spent time living overseas. With its jewel-box colours and wide-open skies, it’s gorgeous to look at too. If you’re of a weepy disposition, know that my tissues came out before 15 minutes had elapsed, when Eilis Lacey (Ronan) waves goodbye to her mother and sister, leaving them behind in economically depressed Ireland to build a new life in booming post-war New York.
There she joins the city’s enormous Irish diaspora, a readymade community that provides her with a home and employment. But it’s an outsider, sweet-natured Italian plumber Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), with whom she falls in love.
Many, many tears are shed in the course of Brooklyn — Ronan is a first-rate onscreen weeper, and director John Crowley seems incapable of leaving any heartstring untugged — but at its core this is a story of optimism. Not just about the American dream, which in the 1950s offered young women like Eilis economic and societal freedoms that would be impossible back home, but also about people’s inherent decency.
Everyone Eilis encounters in New York shows her kindness, almost without exception, whether it’s the glamorous manager at her department store job or her boarding-house landlady (a scene-stealing Julie Walters — but then, when is Walters anything but?), or the priest who supports her through the early homesick months. Realistic? Probably not. Heartwarming? Most definitely.
As an off-and-on member of the Kiwi diaspora, and current Brooklyn immigrant myself, it’s tempting to draw comparisons between my experiences and those of Eilis. And there is plenty that rings true for me — missing family and familiarity, feeling like you belong in neither country, wondering if this will ever truly feel like home. But the immigrant experience of Brooklyn is a long time before email and Skype, before remote working and cheap international flights.
The choice for Eilis, when it comes, is a stark one: homeland or adopted country, and nothing in between. Not for me. I’ve never felt more lucky.