It is rare that a film fills a hole I didn't know existed.
Brooklyn is a period romance about a woman, Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), who immigrates from Ireland to the United States in the 1950's. It is also one of the best films of what turned out to be a fantastic year for cinema.
When I think of immigration from Ireland, I think of the 1840's and 1850's, during the Great Potato Famine, or else I think of the turn of the century, the high point for immigration of all sorts. But the eras that have been passed over by popular culture are not empty shells. They have stories to tell. This film is one of the very best of these stories.
Above all, it is a lovely film. It is not bold or brash or glitzy or any other quintessentially American attribute, but it is a quintessentially American film. I do not mean it is the sort of film that could only be made in America by Americans, but rather that it is the sort of the film that exemplifies what my country is, at its best, about: growth, opportunity, resilience, desire.
Nevertheless, it is far too complex and beautiful of a film to be adequately summed up by a few buzz words. The filmmaking craft is top-notch. There are shots in this film that are framed like paintings, such as the first shot of the film- Ellis' home and street- and the first shot of New York City, with the Empire State Building glimmering in the distance.
The character work is even better. I hate most movie romances because they feel contrived and tacked on. At no point do they feel necessary or important. This is a shame, because a great romance evokes passions, dreams, fears, and wishes that nothing else can. Great romance can be big and boisterous or soft and subtle, but it has to be intimate and potent, a secret shared between the two lovers. By those measures, this is one of the best romances in the history of art, and I do not say this likely.
There is a love triangle, but it is natural, gripping, and very non-petty. Ellis behaves in a reasonable way, her actions filled with her personality and her evolving mental state. A bad love triangle plays out like The Bachelor. A great love triangle plays out like a boat navigating two shores. Ellis is not just caught between two guys. She is caught between two different lives, two different ideals, two different dreams.
The best films all feel unique, like it could only be made at one place and one time but one team. While this film is in many ways a throwback to an earlier era, offering a feel, an environment, and a story that had been left behind by the passage of time, it is its own production. It shows the past as it could only be viewed from not just a present, but this present, by these people.
It is not obvious or obtuse, but gentle and subtle, a welcome change in the era of towering blockbusters meant to be seen exactly one time by tens of millions of people. Most films nowadays are like a roller-coaster- you get on, get twisted around for a while, get off, eat, and move on. This film feels like love, how appropriate, considering it is a romance. You're immediately drawn in. You want to know more, to dive deeper. Eventually, you fall in head first and are overjoyed about it. When it ends, you are crestfallen, but you know the memories you have formed will stay with you until eternity.
Saorise Ronan stands out among a collection of talented actors and actresses delivering some of the best performances of their lives. I want to see more of her. I want her to make more roles come alive. She has the right blend of fierce and sensitive. Though she (wrongfully) did not get an Oscar for her role, I have no doubt she will receive one in the future. I do, however, doubt that she will be as good as she is here. This role fits her perfectly.
As a film critic, I am often disappointed when writing my reviews. I want to share with you, my audience, the feeling a film gave me. But that is impossible. A film, despite only normally being between an hour and a half and three hours, is a combination of the work of hundreds or even thousands of people over often years. The best a critic can do is try to capture the essence of that feeling, but even that is hard to do. Art is about emotions, and while emotions can be explained, they cannot be translated. I could talk to you about what happiness feels like, but I can't make you feel happy by doing that.