Brooklyn (2015)

Director: John Crowley
Writer: Nick Hornby
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Jessica Paré.

Adapting a novel to the screen must be a really daunting task. A writer is not starting with their own original idea, but it’s not like adapting from a true story either because there are so many facets and perspectives to a life that can be drawn from to compile and rearrange, thus still making the screenplay somewhat original and fresh. Not so with a novel. The book’s readers are the experts on the subject matter, being aware of all the plot points, descriptions, character developments – the readers are profoundly connected to the source material and feel ownership of it. Readers are extremely protective of what happens to the story they loved and connected with and are not afraid to voice their disapproval or rejection when the finished product is not up to par. And while I can appreciate the difficulty in the nature of adaptation and know that someone can never make everyone happy I also believe that those involved in adapting works already loved by many should do so with a level of respect. I also expect a movie based on a novel that I have read to make me forget that I have read the book, capture me anew, and take me into the movie’s world and not allow me to notice all the ways in which the story differs from the one I already know. As I said, it’s an unenviable task and one I don’t think I would ever want.

Earlier this year I read Colm Tóibín’s beautiful novel Brooklyn, partly because I had just really enjoyed another of his novels and also in anticipation for this movie I knew would be soon released. Because I have already discussed the plot when I wrote about the novel, I will only allude to it when necessary, also because for the most part this movie is quite faithful to its source material. I will gladly say, immediately, that this movie is a true and resounding success and it accomplished the nearly impossible task of absorbing me into the plot and characters. The end result is that Brooklyn is easily the best film I have seen this year.

Saorise Ronan has impressively and quietly been building a name for herself in Hollywood over the years, even more laudable since she has transitioned quite seamlessly from children’s roles into more mature ones without the need of announcing her adulthood like other actors have done. After her star making (and Oscar nominated) turn in Atonement, her collection of interesting performances, from Hanna to The Grand Budapest Hotel, have all contributed to schooling her dramatic performances, which culminate into this beautiful and understated rendering of Eilis, a young woman who moves from Ireland to Brooklyn in hopes of a brighter future her small town would never be able to give her.

To help and guide Eilis are the woman running her boarding house, Mrs. Kehoe, the priest who sponsored and helped her immigration, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), and her boss at the Italian department where she works, Miss Fortini (Jessica Paré). While none of these roles are especially showy, they are still important for character development. It’s also nice to see these familiar faces, as they are played by talented actors who lend gravitas, or in Paré’s case even a little humor, to the production.

While living in Brooklyn, Eilis meets and falls for a young Italian American boy named Tony (Emory Cohen). I was a little apprehensive about this character as he and his family sometimes tended towards the stereotypical and cartoonish in the novel, but Cohen brings such a humane quality to the young man in a really great and goofy performance that I really loved. Due to a personal tragedy Eilis must return to Ireland and here she meets Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), who forces Eilis to choose between her new and exciting life in the States with her paramour, or to take a chance back home in the company of a man she has more in common with.

As I said, the novel and the film are very similar. Understandably due to running time some things are omitted or glossed over. Notable examples are Eilis’ life in Ireland before her departure (the movie begins with Eilis’ impending trip). The most glaring change is the fact that while Eilis and Jim meet before she moves to New York, in the movie their first meeting doesn’t occur until after she returns. The characters of Eilis’ brothers are completely erased from the film, which ultimately is fine. The only other true change is that the movie is a little more sanitized than the book was – Eilis is a young woman also coming into her own sexuality, the film alludes to it but glosses over some of these moments, including the funny scenes in which Miss Fortini’s sexuality seems to be somewhat suspect.

I had only seen one other film by director John Crowley: Intermission, a forgettable small Irish independent movie from 2003 starring Colin Farrell. Nick Hornby, the film’s screenwriter, is an accomplished author, but I have never read any of his books. I have, however, seen the other films he has written the screenplay to, An Education and Wild, both of which are also adaptations of popular books. Both men bring their A game to this work and do it justice. I was worried because it’s already pretty surprising that a man, Tóibín, was able to tell the story from a female perspective that rang true, so to add more male voices to the mix could have been a problem, but my fears were unfounded.

Book fans will notice that the ending is somewhat different. It hasn’t technically been changed, just… extended. It actually works and I didn’t find myself minding. The film transported me, from sets to beautiful costumes, to 1950s New York and Ireland and I was captivated all over again by this gorgeous little story of a young woman whose adventures in the world mirrored her internal ones, self discovery and coming of age are perfectly depicted and am so glad that this story has been told and in such a fantastic way.

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