THE Oscar race for Best Actress officially kicks off with John Crowley’s Irish-immigrant drama Brooklyn, a moving yet entertaining work that benefits from a truly excellent and award-worthy performance from its lead star, Saoirse Ronan.
Set in the early 1950s, the film begins with young Eilis Lacey (Ronan) working in a shop in County Wexford for a wholly unlikable shopkeeper who instantly lets her go upon her discovery that she is emigrating to America.
The move to America has been planned by her devoted sister Rose who believes that her best chances of future success lie with joining the masses of Irish people who left their homeland in search of a better future for themselves stateside.
Guided by the warm-hearted Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), Eilis moves into a boarding house run by the devoutly Christian but likable landlady Madge (Julie Walters).
Though her integration into American society is marred by severe homesickness and a struggle to fit in, her confidence eventually grows and life betters when she falls in love with the kind-hearted Antonio (Emery Cohen), born from an Italian family.
However, tragedy back home brings her back to Ireland where upon meeting another kind-hearted individual Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), she is faced with the dilemma of where her future really belongs.
To get straight to the point, the best thing about this film is easily the performance from Ronan.
Until this came out, only Carey Mulligan and Emily Blunt appeared as genuinely potential Oscar contenders but compared to Ronan, neither of them deserve to be put in the same category as her.
Only Alicia Vikander in this year’s Testament of Youth rivals Ronan for what will likely become for me personally, the best performance from an actress this year, maybe even the best from an actor overall.
As a character study, it is the combination of Ronan’s acting, Crowley’s direction and the script from Nick Hornby, adapted from the novel by Colm Toibin that a character like Eilis succeeds in terms of depth and placement.
Once Eilis leaves Ireland, just seeing the struggles she endures on the ferry alone creates intrigue as to how she will cope alone in such a vast area, yet a strong hope and belief that she will succeed at making a good life for herself.
A well-written conversation on the ferry between Eilis and another immigrant who has clearly been in her position before paves the way for an exploration of what turns out to be one of the most positive characters from a film in recent memory.
One sequence which superbly depicts the challenges that Eilis goes through in her new life is a montage where homesickness and difficulty at integrating is all to see. Clearly overwhelmed by the letter she has received from her sister, the heartbreak is most notable when she struggles to compose herself in her job working in a department store.
If there is a time for the Academy to prove their reliability, now is the time to do so because if Ronan does not get a Best Actress nomination, just for that sequence alone, their credibility will be damaged indefinitely.
The storytelling also helps the film succeed thanks to its notions of dilemma that Eilis finds herself in. Though life is seemingly settled in America, the return to Ireland spells out the inevitability that at least one of the suitors she is involved with will be let down.
Because both Antonio and Jim are likable beings, it makes for a dilemma for the viewer as well because neither deserve to be let down and the same goes for those closest to Eilis in which decision she chooses to pick.
Without giving any away, by the end of the film, the decision that Eilis makes ultimately feels like the right one and the structure as to how Eilis is played both at the film’s start and end makes for a truly memorable characterization.
Brooklyn plays as an inspiring coming-of-age tale that demonstrates that some aspects of life might not be easy to undergo at first, but can eventually be achieved. With Ronan owning the screen and a script that rightly pays tribute to the strength of women, this is an impressive piece that deserves an audience.