Screenwriter Nick Hornby crafts a powerful tale of modern immigration
Despite the insistence of certain presidential candidates towards the opposite, America is an immigrant story. The reasons behind hard work and sacrifice as enduring American values are tied directly to the inherent difficulty of ancestral Americans to thrive in a foreign, unforgiving environment.
From the Pilgrims starving through harsh winters to the Irish fleeing famine for unwelcome shores to Latin Americans harvesting the food for an unappreciative populace, immigrants, legal or not, are the fabric of the American tapestry.
At every juncture in our history, those that came before have made it difficult for those that come after. And yet in spite of this short-sighted strategy, the country grew and intermingled and created a culture unique and powerfully individual.
Even though it may seem that racial inequality and hatred is immense and widespread, the United States is one of the most tolerant countries in the world. This has happened through those same values brought by the immigrants that built the country. Hard work and sacrifice led us here and will continue to drive progress.
Brooklyn, an Academy Award nominated film from 2015 that might have been overlooked in a controversial year and is now available on VOD, is a beautiful film about the American immigrant experience. It is quiet, thoughtful, well told and well-acted. It’s a story that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else in the world.
Eilis Lacey (Saiorse Ronan) is a young Irish girl without opportunity. She works part time in a grocery store for a busybody of a woman who berates her employees, and appears to have no future beyond a life of a quiet spinster. Her sister Rose refuses to allow this for her—she arranges for Eilis to immigrate to America, using the Catholic Church to intercede on their behalf, finding her work in a department store and a room in a boarding house with other Irish girls searching for a new start.
Much of the film explores the loneliness, the otherness, the struggle of being alone in a new world. Brooklyn is where the Irish go, creating a community familiar yet strange, grasping for any semblance of home to comfort them. Eilis waits for letters from home, carrying them with her as she works, as she eats, as she lies alone in her room weeping.
But it only lasts for a time, and soon Eilis finds herself in love with a young Italian plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen). But of course, tragedy strikes in her home country, just when she finds herself adapting to her new life, and calls her home to Ireland. She must then decide which home is truly her own.
Brooklyn was written by Nick Hornby, his second Academy Award nominated screenplay since 2010. The first, An Education, focused again on a young woman learning to define herself outside of an abusive relationship. Last year’s film Wild, for which Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern were nominated for Academy Awards, was also written by Hornby and featured a young woman searching for answers after the death of her mother.
It seems that Nick Hornby has a talent for breathing life into female characters struggling to find their place in the world—a departure, to be sure, from his first novel, High Fidelity, which is a seminal study in the quirks of the thirtysomething male mind.
Director John Crowley takes this screenplay and creates a beautiful, stunning film. Saiorse Ronan is perfect for the role, imbuing strength in spite of fragility to the character, which makes the film all the more engaging. Emory Cohen creates a character without poetry but full of heart, one that makes Eilis’s decision understandably complex.
Brooklyn takes a story about leaving home and pulls the audience in through high quality story-telling and carefully crafted filmmaking. In lesser hands, the film could easily come across as sappy and forced. If anything, the story felt rushed towards the end. It’s the type of movie that could have gone on for another half hour and not felt overlong. Given that it was nearly two hours, this is quite an accomplishment.
Brooklyn is a film worth seeing now, before the floodgates open on summer blockbusters. Sometimes, simple stories are better.