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Brooklyn. My take on the movie starring Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen : Home is where the heart is. #book2movies [review]

There’s nothing for Eillis (EyeLish) Lacy in Ireland. That’s clear from the moment we see Saoirse (Seer-Sha or Sur-Shuh depending on who you talk to) Ronan, pale and makeup free but still pretty, walking the charcoal smudged streets, dark with drizzle, the young men at the church dance, all the same with their ‘oily hair and Rugby blazers’ and the pinched face of the small minded owner of the shop where she works for a paltry couple of hours a week. 

Still, it’s home. In Nick Hornby’s gorgeously written adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel, at once heartbreaking and filled with humor, all that Eillis’ older sister Rose—played by Fiona Glascott, the social climbing wife of the school headmaster in Indian Summer—wants, is for her sister to have a better life than home can afford. It’s Rose who arranges for Eillis to leave home, to leave the economically deprived Ireland of the 1950’s for Brooklyn. I started weeping as the two sisters pack Eillis’ one suitcase knowing their goodbyes have to last a long, long time, a drizzle that came and went throughout the 1 hour, 52 minute film.

When Eillis waves goodbye to Rose and her mother from the ships deck, her face isnt filled with happy expectation, the excitement of going to America, embarking on a new adventure. Shes heartsick, overwhelmed with sadness. Everybody, her fellow passengers, their families waving goodbye from the dock, are heartsick too. 

Eillis takes that heartsickness with her to the states. Set up with both a job and a place to live by Father Flood—a calm and soothing Jim Broadbent with not one ounce of caricature—Eillis moves through life in a heavy homesick haze. The boarding house, ruled over by Mrs. Kehoe, the remarkable Julie Walter (and another Indian Summer cast member) is Eillis’ new home, where mealtimes are a vibrant funny mix of women, none shy about giving their tips on how to make it in America. Their sharp-edged banter, Mrs Kehoe’s scolding, leaves no point of entry for Eillis, whose homesickness is so acute, she wears it everywhere, almost like armor. In Bartucci’s, the shop where she works under the supervision of Mad Men’s Jessica Pare—and where production designer François Séguin has created a flawlessly presented early 1950’s department store complete with those nifty tubes that whisked the customer’s money away—a fellow employee tries to engage her in conversation about seeing the Quiet Man. She ends up having an entire dialogue with herself before Eillis can break through her own muffled haze to respond. She’s miserable. 

And then comes Tony. She meets him at a church dance and from that moment on things begin to change. While I went into the film feeling good about Saoirse Ronan as an actor—and the luminous Ronan didn’t disappoint—Emory Cohen as Tony was a revelation. I’d only seen him in The Place Beyond the Pines in which he plays such a despicable character I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see him as the love interest. But there he was standing there, with an Andrew McCarthy smile on his face, watching Eillis dancing and I fell, just like Eillis was sure to fall. Their chemistry was dazzling, Cohen, with that adorable smile, wearing his heart on his sleeve, I had that feeling, you know the one, the up-all-night, we-just-talked feeling. That it must be love feeling. Watching their relationship ripen, seeing that courtship progress, and the change come over Eillis was simply lovely in the most open-hearted, old-fashioned way. 

Now here’s something you don’t hear from me every day. The movie Brooklyn was better than the book. Sorry Com Toibin! Nick Hornby got rid of much of Toibin’s pre-departure story including Jim Farrell’s less than flattering backstory. In this version Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), the boy back home, is tall, successful and above all, kind (attention men: please note, it is his kindness that turns her head) a worthy rival for Eillis’s affection. 

Ultimately though, while it’s an old-fashioned love story, it’s not just about a boy. It’s not just girl meets boy and gets swept off her feet and they lived happily ever after. It’s about a girl who takes a risk, a girl who—frightened or not—does go off on a journey, an adventure of her own and who slowly but steadily meets the challenges life throws at her. She likes her job well enough but wants to work in an office so she goes to night school to better herself. She’s not some make-believe kick-ass faux female who’s smarter and stronger and sharper than everyone else in the world. She’s the real deal. A bright, attractive, thoughtful young woman who, separated from friends and family and established notions of who she is, has to make her own way in the real world, and find out for herself who she really is. 

I think you’ll like her.

Kudos to director John Crowley, his exceptional cast and crew, for bringing Eillis Lacy and Brooklyn to life.


We’ll go into the period-perfect costume design by 
Odile Dicks-Mireaux another time, but if I were a twenty something millennial I’d be lusting for pretty pastel dresses nipped in at the waist. Oh wait, I already am!