Films about immigration are imbued with a heaviness, from the epic family saga The Godfather Part II (1974) to the recent and aptly titled, The Immigrant (2013). In these, immigrating and assimilating is depicted as an enormous hurdle, a transition from a dark world to an even darker one. A transition that requires great strength to get to the light of the American Dream. Brooklyn (2015) is quite a different immigration tale. Eilis, a young woman brilliantly played by Saoirse Ronan, feels trapped in her small Irish town and makes the leap to New York City in the 1950s. Her struggles to assimilate are much more lighthearted and heartwarming, oftentimes played for genuine laughs.
After arriving, Eilis deals with immense homesickness, but things turn around when she starts dating a young Italian man named Tony. Circumstances eventually lead to her return to Ireland, where she finds herself unwillingly trapped and left to question whether she should stay or return to New York. John Crowley finely depicts Elis’ feelings of isolation and longing for home, such as the scenes of sheer joy when she receives a letter from home. Crowley makes Ellis’ struggle relevant and deeply felt for contemporary audiences, even though we are used to messaging someone with the click of a button.
Cinematographer Yves Belanger (Dallas Buyers Club and Wild) , production designer Francois Seguin and costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux bring the 1950s world to life through the period clothes and surroundings. New York and Ireland both have vibrant and beautiful colors of their own, such as the bright greens of the rolling Irish hills or the eclectic rainbow of a day at the beach on Coney Island. This vivacity creates two beautifully distinct worlds and halves of Ellis’ heart. Her arc is signaled formally by the gradual brightness of her costumes, such as her green bathing suit and yellow dress, personifying the comfort and pride she begins to feel as a New York City woman. When she returns to Ireland, her lively clothes contrast the drab ones of her friends.
Aside from the 1950s diegetic setting, the film feels ripped out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, a rare and refreshing commodity for a 2015 film. Eilis and Tony’s courtship is dutifully mannered and romantic, yet completely authentic. There is no ulterior motive for his affection and no evil schemes or cynical antagonist threatening to break them apart. It is no coincidence the pair see Singing in the Rain together, for Brooklyn feels just as timeless and endearing. Brooklyn has an aura of timelessness, an innocence and universal charm found in the very era the film recreates. Nick Hornby’s screenplay navigates wholesome comedic vignettes with tender ethos to create a richly textured and poetic period drama that is sweet without being saccharine.
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