Full disclosure: I did not expect to cry so much during Brooklyn.
Maybe I should have known better. After all, it’s a sweeping, coming of age story about a young woman who leaves her family, and everything she’s ever known to travel thousands of miles to seek new adventures in Brooklyn. And I had just left my family, and everything I’ve ever known, to travel hundreds of miles to seek new adventures in Brooklyn.
There were going to be tears.
From the get-go, Saoirse Ronan (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Lovely Bones) carries this film on her supremely capable shoulders. We aren’t given much of a backstory as to why she wants to leave Enniscorthy for New York, but we do see that dissatisfied flicker in her eyes when reporting for work at the small-town grocery store. It’s obvious that she feels disconnected from her employer and many of her peers. When she hears of an opportunity across the ocean in New York City, she knows it’s time to get away.
The movie takes its time reminding us how hard it is to make our own way in the world. From the long and cringe worthy boat ride, to the panic at wondering, “Will I make a fool of myself in customs?”, to learning to navigate a big city when you’re used to quiet lanes. So many of us have stood exactly where Ellis stands. It’s not hard to feel like a friend, watching her from the wings, just aching to reach out and offer a comforting hug.
As the movie went on, and Ellis gets to know the kind, Italian Tony Fiorella (Emory Cohen), I slowly realized that this was a true Romance film, which seems rare these days. Sure, most movies have a throwaway romance subplot, but Brooklyn isn’t a rom-com or a Hallmark original. It’s a well-written adaptation about two hearts learning to love each other and navigate heartache.
From the moment that Tony’s eyes meet Ellis’ across the room, we see something come alive in her. His friendship helps her feel more empowered. His affection gives her motivation to go exploring, to excel at her work, and to learn to enjoy the bustling and dirty city.
The story doesn’t rush, but it doesn’t drag. It lets you experience the nerves, the laughter, the quiet moments of deep homesickness and the flutters of first love.
The most interesting, and most painful part, is when Ellis is summoned back to Ireland. She doesn’t want to leave Tony (and Tony really doesn’t want her to leave) but once back in Enniscorthy, she remembers what she loves about Ireland. A local job opens, just the kind of job she’s been studying for. She meets a gentle, interesting bachelor (the impeccable Domhnall Gleeson) who is quite keen on wooing her.
We have been there too, that’s the thing. We have looked at that handsome guy and thought, “Where were you last year, when I really needed someone?” We have groaned at that job opening we just barely missed. We’ve longed for what might have been, even though right now is still pretty great.
We can only live one life, though, and make one set of choices. We can’t have Ireland and Brooklyn. It’s a beautiful road watching Ellis learn that difficult lesson.
Brooklyn is a sad and sweet journey of one woman learning to navigate her place in the world and understand what home really means.