Friday, January 19, 2018
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Review: 'Brooklyn' an understated immigrant tale with a shining star

Despite recent hotheads and headlines, the immigrant experience is what America is all about. Brooklyn is a lovely, classically constructed reminder of our best melting pot instincts.

Set in the far more innocent 1950s, Brooklyn is the story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irishwoman traveling to New York on her own. Eilis is played by Saoirse Ronan, whose Emerald Isle lineage — born in the U.S. to Irish parents, raised in Ireland — is evident in each expression flickering across her freckled face. Hers is a performance commanding a movie by understatement, tamping down sentimentality without extinguishing it.

When director John Crowley's film begins, Eilis is living in Ireland with the mother (Jane Brennan) and older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott). Jobs are scarce for a young woman, so Eilis accepts an offer of transportation to and lodging in New York from Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), her former parish priest already relocated there.

Over the next few months, Eilis settles into friendships at the boarding house operated by Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters in fine form), her job as a department store sales clerk and romance with a nice Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen, a charmer). None of these events come with risks or melodrama other movies have attached to immigration stories, that would tilt Eilis toward victimhood.

She faces little prejudice or sexism, so Brooklyn remains as demure as its heroine, when slightly raising the emotional stakes might hold our attention better.

The central crisis in Brooklyn is Eilis' conflicted feelings of homesickness and new world belonging. Bad news sends her back to Ireland but not until marrying Tony first. Keeping that union secret from her family, Eilis returns home where her mother is intent upon keeping her, and a charming lad named Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) shows interest.

Brooklyn is adapted from Colm Toibin's novel by Nick Hornby, in a suitable companion piece to his work on another feminine coming-of-age tale, An Education. Hornby must surely whittle Toibin's prose for running time considerations although Crowley's costume and set design teams impressively convey the author's period descriptions. Make no mistake, though, Ronan is Brooklyn's linchpin, and its saving grace.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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