Eilis, the film's heroine, is forced to choose between two men.

IMAGE COURTESY OF FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES

Eilis, the film's heroine, is forced to choose between two men.

February 11, 2016

Romance and the American Dream in Brooklyn

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In the midst of a controversial Oscar season, one that is plagued by criticism for its lack of diversity, we can assure ourselves of one thing — Saoirse Ronan deserves her place as an Academy Nominee for Best Actress in a Lead Role, for her gripping performance as timid Irish immigrant Eilis (AY-lish) Lacey in John Crowley’s Brooklyn.

The film, based off Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name, centers on Eilis and her voyage to the gilded United States — specifically Brooklyn — during the 1950s. Eilis lives in an Irish boarding house, shared with other immigrants and owned by the cheerfully senile Mrs. Kehoe (Barbara Walters) and works at a high-end department store. As she settles in, emotional turmoil ensues and the transition of leaving her sister, Rose, and her mother proves to be almost unbearable. It’s at this point of weakness that she’s intercepted by charismatic and stereotypically Italian Tony (Emory Cohen), who inevitably becomes her cross-cultured love interest. Without giving away essential plot details, Eilis finds herself back in Ireland and becomes enamored with young, matured Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) — which renders her torn, yet again, overseas.

This seemingly simple plot is transformed from a banal romantic Lifetime movie into a moving story that delves into the struggle of immigration as an opportunity to seize the American Dream. The cast is complex, relatable yet perfectly flawed. Ronan brings Eilis Lacey to life and breaks through the bleak life of an immigrant with her bright-colored outfits, which contrast the chilling Brooklyn winter. Her soft-spoken Eilis is a strong woman, commended as “sensible” by her landlady Mrs. Kehoe and bound for success due to her work with American bookkeeping at Brooklyn College. Yet despite these traits, it is her vulnerability that shifts her from an interesting character to a dynamic, three-dimensional individual. Being reserved and quiet served as a cloak for her grief over leaving her family, yet when her relationship with Tony begins, Eilis’ moods parallel her outfits — cheery and uplifting. Any good actor can take a character and make him/her choke up tears or explode with anger or give a convincingly joyous smile, but it takes real talent to craft a vulnerable, imperfect person with clouded intentions and masked emotions beyond the scope of the dialogue. There, we see the true essence of why Ronan’s portrayal of Eilis Lacey is convincing, moving, and most importantly, real. Brooklyn tells a story that plays with the sentimental notion of where home is — overseas with the one you love or in the place you’ve grown up.

Besides Ronan’s masterfully elegant performance, I was happily surprised by the innocent and candid person brought to life by Emory Cohen as Eilis’ first love interest, Tony. The dynamic of playing an Italian whose family has ambivalent feelings towards the Irish and who is thoroughly committed to Eilis was nothing but refreshing to watch. Cohen, not recognized by the Academy, uses a quite persuasive Italian accent with a hint of Brooklyn to establish himself as not only a minor character that helps Eilis adapt to American lifestyle, but also as an intricate person, riddled with the external pressure of seeking out success despite coming from a family of Italian immigrants.

Alongside Cohen, Gleeson continues his dominant 2015 for playing potential homewrecker Jim Farrell. Gleeson’s run is one of the most remarkable of any actor last year, with wondrous performances in Brooklyn, Ex Machina, The Revenant, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. His presence is definitely felt, for his eloquent dialogue and respectable behavior forges a genuinely likeable character, which didn’t feel right since he was playing spoiler in Eilis and Tony’s relationship. I, like Eilis, actually forgot about Tony during a few scenes towards the latter half of the movie. Cohen and Gleeson are both undeniably bona fide young men, leaving the viewer puzzled as to how the movie would end.

Although the movie’s characters are brilliantly cast and the movie’s plot is engaging, the film won’t necessarily keep you on the edge of your seat. The plot thickens towards the last third and has no car chases or explicit pejoratives and very little — to be blunt — loud noises, but it plays out like the novel from which Brooklyn is adapted. Brooklyn’s soulful, candid and periodically witty screenplay, written and adapted by Nick Hornby, resonated with the commandingly somber score put together by Michael Brook. With these advantages and the quiet and powerful cast, Brooklyn manifests itself as one of the best movies of 2015. Saoirse Ronan’s perplexingly real performance will likely get her smelling Oscar gold, with Brie Larson in her way. Yet immersed by the antiquated 1950s costume design, the character’s dialogue brings this film into excellence and into the group of Nominees for Best Picture. The likelihood of Brooklyn claiming top gun on Feb. 28 is more of a longshot if anything, as its plot may seem slow and less momentous than its stronger counterparts such as The Revenant and Spotlight. Nonetheless, Brooklyn is a sincere tale that deftly delves into the realms of homesickness and nostalgia. It deserves its recognition as a potential Best Picture thanks to its gracefully elegant story and should be fully absorbed and appreciated.

Tim Rehm is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at tdr43@cornell.edu.

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