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Brooklyn Movie Review

Brooklyn: Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art
Brooklyn is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + Digital HD release.

Brooklyn (2015) movie poster Brooklyn

Theatrical Release: November 4, 2015 / Running Time: 113 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: John Crowley / Writers: Colm Tóibín (novel), Nick Hornby (screenplay)

Cast: Saoirse Ronan (Ellis Lacey), Domhnall Gleeson (Jim Farrell), Emory Cohen (Tony Fiorello), Jim Broadbent (Father Flood), Julie Walters (Mrs. Kehoe), Fiona Glascott (Rose Lacey), Jane Brennan (Mary Lacey), Jessica Paré (Miss Fortini), Emily Bett Rickards (Patty), Eve Macklin (Diana), Nora-Jane Noone (Sheila), Eileen O'Higgins (Nancy), Peter Campion (George Sheridan), Samantha Munro (Dorothy), James Digiacamo (Frankie Fiorello), Ellen David (Mrs. Fiorello), Paulino Nunes (Mr. Fiorello), Brid Brennan (Miss Kelly)

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How does a period drama released near the end of the year avoid playing like Oscar bait? When that drama is full of humanity,
as Brooklyn is. This modestly-budgeted adaptation of the 2009 novel of the same name by Irish author Colm Tóibín has a narrow focus, an accessible tone, and a story that is effortlessly investable.

Set in 1952, the film sees Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young woman in her twenties, leaving behind her native Ireland, her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) and their widowed mother (Jane Brennan) to start a new life in America. After making the stomach-churning long boat ride over, Ellis moves into a boarding house in the titular New York borough with other single women, most of them fellow immigrants, sharing meals and experiences. She gets a job working at an upscale department store and begins taking college classes at night with her tuition covered by a generous priest (Jim Broadbent).

One night at the lifeless weekly community dance, she meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), an Italian-American plumber who takes a liking to her. Their romance is sweet, sincere, and increasingly serious. When tragedy befalls Ellis' family, she returns to Ireland while vowing to come back to New York and her man in about a month. Back in Ireland, though, not only does she provide some necessary company to her lonely mother, she also stumbles into a bookkeeping job at her sister's workplace, and finds an eligible and charming suitor in rugby club member Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson). Suddenly, parochial Ireland holds opportunity and appeal to this lady, who becomes slow to reply to Tony's letters from New York.

In "Brooklyn", Irish immigrant Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) has prepared for this spaghetti dinner with the family of her Italian-American boyfriend, Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen).

Like The Immigrant, the handsomely shot 1920s drama that got overlooked last year, Brooklyn tells a story that many in America can relate to. If you yourself didn't emigrate here, then someone else in your lineage must have and quite probably not that long ago. Though specific to the period, the locations, and the protagonist, Ellis' story is universal in its experiences. The mix of horror and excitement that come from being in a new place you don't know are well conveyed in the sharp screenplay by Nick Hornby, a Brit who has transitioned well from the novels on which High Fidelity and About a Boy were based to adapting others' texts on An Education and Wild. Brooklyn has more to offer than either of Hornby's prior adaptations because it tells a more compelling story and it does so in a most engaging and appealing fashion.

You could marginalize the film by calling it a love triangle romance. That label fits but this is not the Lifetime original movie that implies. Each of Ellis' love interests is presented in three dimensions. They're not just a potential soulmate because the movie wants them to be, but because they each genuinely seem like admirable men with whom Ellis could spend her life. Brooklyn doesn't cheapen its plot by turning one of the men into a creep. The dilemma that Ellis finds herself in is genuinely unpredictable. You're right there with her trying to weigh her options, considering her responsibilities to others and her paths to happiness and fulfillment. There is more to Ellis too than just finding a man to marry, although the movie correctly determines that love kind of conquers all in terms of viewers' interests. Her professional ambitions and tastes are factors in her decisions, which makes it more than just a love triangle movie.

Back in Ireland, Ellis (Saoirse Ronan) enjoys a walk on the beach with rugby hunk Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson).

Sweeping you up in its world fully and stealthily, Brooklyn represents the finest film work to date from everyone associated with it. Ronan, who has blossomed into womanhood before our eyes in the eight years since she first earned notice for her Oscar-nominated supporting role in Atonement, is a relatable and complex leading lady. It's easy to imagine this ingénue being treated as a potential breakthrough role for a budding starlet. Ronan proves that the part is also well suited for someone with all her experience, which is seemingly unrivaled by any other 21-year-old actress. While the film belongs to Ronan, it also makes fine use of a supporting cast, from Cohen, who convinces as another generation's Marty-esque blue collar gentleman (and doesn't at all make you want to punch him in the face as he did in the memorable The Place Beyond the Pines)
to Gleeson to Broadbent, Julie Walters and Jessica Paré, who as Ellis' boss gives the department store scenes a touch of a "Mad Men" feel. Hornby's writing resonates more than his past scripts. Director John Crowley, who you may well not know for a handful of minor UK films including Boy A and Closed Circuit, gives the proceedings heart, humor, and warmth without applying an easily noticed or defined style.

The last two winners of the Best Picture Oscar came from Fox Searchlight, the mini-major which doesn't have a stronger contender on its menu this season. Brooklyn seems unlikely to keep the studio's winning streak alive, but it does seem likely to get nominations for Picture, Lead Actress, and Adapted Screenplay and could easily also be recognized for its production and costume design as well. That can only help to raise the profile of a good-hearted, smallish film you could only dislike in response to expectations heightened by the acclaim and accolades destined to come its way. Such is the plight of an Oscar movie, even one that isn't calculated to play that part, instead assuming it on quality content and good fortune.

Buy Brooklyn from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: RoomBridge of SpiesSteve JobsSpectre
Saoirse Ronan: The Grand Budapest HotelViolet & DaisyLost RiverCity of EmberThe Way Back
Domhnall Gleeson: Ex MachinaTrue Grit | Emory Cohen: The GamblerAll Is Bright
Adapted by Nick Hornby: An Education
The ImmigrantAmerica AmericaPhilomenaThe Last Five Years

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Reviewed November 20, 2015.

Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 Fox Searchlight Pictures, BBC Films, Telefilm Canada, The Irish Film Board, Sodec, and BFI.
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