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Sleeper of the Week: John Crowley’s ‘Brooklyn’

Sleeper of the Week: John Crowley's 'Brooklyn'

Sleeper of the Week takes a film that only few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

Dir: John Crowley
Criticwire Average: A-

An old-fashioned, skillfully-crafted arthouse entertainment, “Brooklyn” tells a romantic story of immigration and cultural change in 1950’s America. Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is a young shopgirl living in a small Irish village who’s overshadowed by her popular sister Rose (Fiona Glascott). She travels to America where she initially doesn’t find life to be any better, but then she finds Tony (Emory Cohen), a nice Italian-American kid who wants to lead Ellis to a more domestic life. But when Eilis returns to Ireland for a visit, she suddenly finds herself enchanted by a young bachelor Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), leaving Eilis with a choice between the familiar and the unknown. Critics adore “Brooklyn,” describing it as a classical, heartwarming tale that aims to please the crowd without ever pandering to them. Beautiful and sentimental in equal measure, “Brooklyn” is a profound, appealing film that will attract filmgoers young and old.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com

While Tóibín’s novel feels very much rooted in the time in which it’s set, the movie has more the feel of what Tennessee Williams calls a “memory play.” I’m sure that the excursion-to-a-Coney-Island-day-at-the-beach scenes in the 1941 comedy “The Devil and Miss Jones” or the 1959 “Imitation of Life,” as Hollywoodized as they were, presented more realistic versions of such excursions than this movie does — I mean, Coney Island is/was a lot of things, but lyrical is not one of them. (The Brooklyn colloquial description of the location would be something along the lines of “zoo.”) As a choice, though, it serves the movie’s vision well. If I may be utterly, unabashedly frank, I admit that the first time I saw this picture I started crying about forty minutes in and never really stopped. They were not all sad tears, I hasten to add. The persistent feeling that this movie so beautifully creates is that even when the world is bestowing blessings upon us, it’s still at the bottom a sad place, and the key to an emotionally healthy existence involves some rooted acceptance of that. The movie ends with Eilis having made some substantial steps to that accepting place, and also determined to move purposefully forward. People have spoken about how understated and old-fashioned “Brooklyn” is, to the extent that it might come across as a pleasant innocuous entertainment. Don’t be fooled. “Brooklyn” is not toothless. But it is big-hearted, romantic and beautiful. Read more.

Nick Schager, Village Voice

The question of what — and how one — defines home becomes an urgent dilemma for Eilis, as she’s pulled in two directions by competing feelings and forces. “Brooklyn” navigates its fork-in-the-road premise, and its themes of displacement and adaptation, with poignant maturity, recognizing that everyone is driven by some measure of self-interest, but also that such me-firstness doesn’t, in and of itself, mark anyone as fundamentally evil. Even more impressive than its appreciation for the complexities of human nature — where tarts can be sneering and compassionate, boyfriends can be insecure and trusting, and mothers can be self-absorbed and sacrificial — is the way the film addresses such multilayered notions through an aesthetic fixation on the faces of its cast. Routinely capturing Ronan in lingering close-ups that allow her to wordlessly convey Eilis’ roiling, contradictory desires, the film serves as an authentic examination of the mid-twentieth-century immigrant experience — and an intimate exploration of one woman’s attempt to understand who she is and where she wants to belong. Read more.

Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York

Sharply scripted by Nick Hornby (who speeds the plot through what might have been a gauzy lull), “Brooklyn” eventually presents a pair of complications for Eilis. The first is a lovestruck Italian-American plumber, Tony (Emory Cohen, like a young Brando), who gives his heart to her respectfully and dreams of moving them out to Long Island. The other, encountered on an emergency return trip to the old country, is Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), exactly the kind of perceptive boy Eilis wished she’d met before she left. Suddenly her future is too bright, and the plot’s love triangle is energized by the nuanced pull of home — wherever that might happen to be in this transitional moment. The tension is exquisite, more than enough for any movie, and Ronan makes you feel every pang of it. Read more.

Noel Murray, The A.V. Club

Brooklyn” is a very nice movie. It’s an arthouse picture for people who don’t frequent arthouses — a tale of cultural displacement so sanitized and swooningly romantic that film buffs could recommend it to their parents and grandparents without hesitation. All of that may sound like a slam, but it’s not meant to be. It’s not easy to make a movie as beautiful as “Brooklyn,” where the stakes are low but the outcome really matters. This is an old-fashioned entertainment, but one so masterfully crafted and heartfelt that it’s hard not to love. Read more.

A.O. Scott, The New York Times

“Brooklyn” is an old photograph without a frame, an implied flashback. Nothing in the film takes place in the present, but everything in it is carried on an invisible current of imaginative retrospection. Like its literary source, the movie, directed by John Crowley (“Boy A”) and written by Nick Hornby, feels like the result of a child or grandchild’s inquiry into the lives of a previous generation. How did Mom and Dad meet? What were they like? Why did they get married? Where did we come from? It’s quite a tale, and also a perfectly ordinary series of events, strung together by chance, choice and perhaps a touch of grace. Read more.

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