Leaving home is something that nearly all of us have to go through at some stage. Whether it’s to move into your University campus, or merely to seek pastures new and thrive in a fresh, revitalising landscape. It’s exciting; it’s daunting; it’s terrifying; and it’s incredible – and John Crowley’s Brooklyn succinctly and substantially depicts such an occasion, taking a candid, intimate look into such a perennial theme, through the eyes of a young girl making the move from her small Irish town, across the Atlantic, and to the Big Apple.
Saoirse Ronan takes on the role of Ellis Lacey, who leaves behind her older sister and aggrieved mother, to seek a new life in Brooklyn, New York – where the Irish priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) has promised to assist her, and help to secure accommodation and paid work. So she moves in with Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) and begins work at a department store – before meeting the charming, ambitious Italian-American, Tony (Emory Cohen). Though this sensible, unassertive teenager is apprehensive about falling in love, it can’t be helped in this instance, as the pair embark in a passionate, if idealistic relationship. But when needing to return home, Ellis finds herself in a situation where she must not only decide whether to remain in Ireland or return back to the States, but between two men, as during her trip back, she meets the local, single, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson).
Crowley perfectly encapsulates the range of emotions you feel when caught between the comfortability of home, and the allure of anywhere else. There’s an injection of the Irish charm, the droll, subtle wit, and the enchantment that so often illuminates pictures that derive from the nation, as Colm Toibin’s acclaimed novel has been brought majestically to life by author and screenwriter Nick Hornby. Not only ensuring that the 50s setting is almost irrelevant, given how relatable these themes explored are, the standout achievement within this picture is to keep the audience completely in the middle – there are no right or wrong choices Ellis can make. It’s impossible to take sides – which is also imperative, as we need to embody the lead, and this helps us understand the difficulty in her predicament. The exciting New York landscape is enticing and seductive, and yet the sheer serenity and comfort of home is equally as convincing a prospect. Meanwhile, both of the love interests are endearing in their own ways, and picking between them is just as challenging.
But where Brooklyn stands out, is within the quite astonishing performance by Ronan, cementing herself as one of the great actresses working today – and proves that the once child actor can make the move into more mature roles with an ease we had always predicted; with such a distinctively subtle, nuanced turn. Her first Oscar nomination came in 2008 for her performance in Atonement, and now there’s a very strong chance she could be in for her second. Talking of which, Walters is as absorbing as ever, so here’s hoping she too can claim another Oscar nod – that would be her third. Which, from where we’re standing, is nowhere near enough.