Wednesday, November 25, 2015

With BROOKLYN, John Crowley and Nick Hornby come close to touching pure movie joy

BROOKLYN will knock your socks off. But so quietly and gently that you'll imagine you're still wearing them. It is difficult to explain how and why this movie is so special, but allow me to try.

First off, in the midst of our horrific modern world -- ISIS murderers abroad and hate-filled, stupid Republican Presidential "front-runners" funded by corporations and the wealthy bent on turning us all into minimum-wage slaves here at home -- Brooklyn exists as a reminder of an earlier, lost time. So, yes, this is nostalgia. But it's nostalgia done right, in which actions have consequences and the themes of family, homeland, coming-of-age, and the meaning of autonomy are treated seriously.

Secondly, in their actress/star, Saoirse Ronan (shown on poster, top; above, right; and variously, below), director John Crowley (at right) and screenwriter Nick Hornby have a winner and the strongest contender I have seen so far for the Best Actress "Oscar." Ms Ronan -- never a showy actress and, while quite attractive, no great beauty, either -- possesses the ability to display the kind of cool and collected inner strength that most actors would give up a year of Botox to be able to understand and use. But there it is in full view here -- in her speech, movement, face -- displayed in ways that none but the finest actors can muster. In every role -- from I Could Never Be Your Woman and Atonement through The Way BackHanna and Violet & Daisy to the more recent The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ronan shines differently and brightly. Here, at last, she becomes the movie's spine.

Fortunately, this actress is surrounded by other fine performers that bring fully to life a past time and place, together with the people who inhabited it. The tale is of a young woman in Ireland smack at the moment of mid-last century, with seemingly no real opportunities ahead of her. Consequently, her sister and her local parish priest arrange for her emigration to America -- to Brooklyn, where most of the Irish seem to have ended up.

On the way there. Eilis (that is her name) endures a seasick sea voyage (above), and once she arrives, she is homesick to near distraction and feels greatly out of place. But as helped by a kindly local priest (a nice change of pace for Jim Broadbent), employed at a posh department store, and stationed in a rooming house for young women run by a delightful Julie Walters (below, center), our girl begins to blossom, if just a bit. (The scenes around the dinner table at that rooming house are so wonderfully real, alert and on-the-mark that you may feel you've stumbled into a legitimate theater piece and are suddenly watching live actors.)

Then love enters the picture -- personified by a young Italian kid who likes Irish girls. As played to perfection by Emory Cohen (below), who brings such an unusual combination of sweet masculinity and savvy decency to his role, this performance becomes an indelible portrait of first love.

How director Crowley -- who, by the way, has so far given us nothing but excellent, under-seen, independent films (Intermission, Boy A, Is Anybody There? and Closed Circuit) -- brings all this to fruition is key. He never pushes, but instead allows Hornby's excellent, full-of-specifics screenplay to keep things on track by making every moment count. It would seem that Crowley has at last connected with a subject that will resonate hugely with the masses -- and then done that subject full justice.

The odd thing about Brooklyn is that so much works out so well for our heroine that one might wonder along the way just where the "conflict" will come from. Interestingly, it arrives directly from Eilis herself as she returns to Ireland to visit mom and finds herself more than a little attracted to her former home and its people.

Holding the film together is Ms Ronan, who simply gleams with hope and promise. And strength. This actress will pull you into her world like nothing you'll have seen, then hold you in her strong, clear gaze until you imagine that, yes, anything is possible, after all. And you may feel, as though for the first time (certainly at the movies after a very long dry spell) real, radiant joy for characters you have come to love.

Brooklyn, from Fox Searchlight and running 111 minutes, opens today in South Florida and elsewhere. Click here, then scroll down and click on THEATER LISTINGS to find a theater near you in just about any state on the map. Your friends are probably already telling you that this is the movie to see. If not yet, they soon will be.

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