Director: John Crowley
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen
4 (out of 5) Globes
The 1950s romance “Brooklyn” is the kind of melodrama that’s easy to call simple, even as a compliment. But melodramas, at least the good ones, are never simple. Bubbling under their unassuming yet riotously beautiful exteriors lies a riot of emotions and complications and heartbreak. “Brooklyn” is one of the good ones, gorgeous to look at and deeply felt, and even sneaky about being smart.
Based on a deceptively plain novel by Colm Toibin, it spins the deceptively basic tale of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish woman newly arrived in New York. She’s been able to score a department store job and a room in a house for other single, working class Irish women. And she soon finds herself in a hesitant romance with Tony (Emory Cohen), a sweetly shy Italian-American with a permanent nervous smile and a thing for Irish girls.
Eilis will, like all melodrama heroes, have to make a choice. She’s eventually called back to Ireland, at which point she has to weigh her comfy but restrictive homeland against the exciting but alien new world — a decision that winds up being between two men: Tony and another meek young man, Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), from back home.
But no choice comes easy, and every moment in “Brooklyn” is loaded with unease and mixed emotions. Eilis’ whole life is about navigating through limited resources, from her job to where she calls home to her romances. Even though she has a greater and more diverse pool of partners to choose from, every romantic volley still has to be carefully judged. Each stage of Eilis and Tony’s courtship plays like a studied negotiation, as though Eilis was not only careful not expose too much of herself but also unsure if she’s settling for what few options have been given to her. Like “Carol,” another new retro-style melodrama about a cross-culture romance that should play out as normal but for many reasons can’t, it takes a view of love from the purely but no less loaded side of the practical.