Top Fifty Films of the 10s — Number Thirty-Three

33 brooklyn

#33 — Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015)

In the nineteen-fifties, a young woman from Ireland moves to the United States. Ellis (Saoirse Ronan) has few prospects and only the slenderest of connections to other Irish immigrants in the big city she decides to call home. She secures a room in a boarding house, receives counsel and support from a priest (Jim Broadbent), and gets a job at a department store under the watchful gaze of an unkind supervisor (Jessica Paré). The adjustment process is difficult until, by attrition, her prospects improve, in part due to a budding romance with a sweet Italian boy (Emory Cohen). Just as Ellis is claiming her place, good and proper, her life shifts and she must make a choice between the safe comfort of past and the uncertainty of her future.

In Brooklyn, an adaptation of a novel by Colm Tóibín, there’s no narrative insurrection, but the storytelling is sublime. Nick Hornby’s adapted screenplay and John Crowley’s direction take advantage of the sturdy blueprint Tóibín turned over. With expert skill — and supported by insightful performances across the cast — the filmmakers burrow into the characters so completely that even the most familiar story beats have the feel of life unfolding, the unpredictable tremors of being that quickly take on the inevitability of fate. The plot shifts as it does because of the established instincts of the characters, for kindness, for cunning, for endurance, for care. Or that’s the way it feels, anyway. Ronan is particularly strong at making Ellis’s choices into an expression of growth, learning, and personal evolution.

In its warmth and wit, Brooklyn makes a convincing case — as only a set of foreigner filmmakers could do — of the U.S. as a land of true possibility. The stumbling blocks to understanding are only temporary nuisances, building the mettle of those they test, like a loving parent that lets a child safely learn from mistakes. The film isn’t all dewy-eyed innocence. It acknowledges the journey is hard, even if the most egregious sins of the nation are outside the story’s brief. But there is a core that justifies the troubles. The soul of the nation, the film reminds, is built from a collective of different perspectives, backgrounds, cultures. That vibrant inner heart is undeniably made up of immigrants, people who suffered indignities and heartaches out of a desire to better themselves, to mark their spot in a place that would have them and reward them for their voices. And the hope and knowledge, the ending suggests, is shared generously, as it should be.

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