(Photo courtesy of the Chicago International Film Festival)

51st Chicago International Film Festival Highlight special presentation


Love triangles in the movies are the stuff of Hollywood legend.  Their appeal is undeniably strong, especially when the right romantic choice isn't always black-and-white.  The tremendous new film "Brooklyn" offers a stunningly considerate love triangle of two extremely decent gentlemen who would both make a wonderful life for our central character, Eilis Lacey, played by the vibrant Saoirse Ronan.  

"Brooklyn" nestles a powerful love story within a touching immigrant and independent woman's saga.  In the early 1950s, Eilis (pronounced "A-lish") Lacey is the quiet little sister of two children for her mother Mary (Jane Brennan) living in County Wexford along the southeast coast of Ireland.  Her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) takes it upon herself to lay a path for Eilis, one she didn't have herself.  Seeing America as a better place for her sister to find marriage, a career, and a life, Rose makes arrangements with Father Flood (Oscar winner Jim Broadbent), a Catholic priest in New York, for Eilis to emigrate to Brooklyn under his watchful charge.

Burdened by homesickness, Eilis takes residence in a generous all-girls boarding house run to kindly order by Mrs. Madge Kehoe (Julie Walters).  Montreal stands in to simulate New York City and cinematographer Yves Belanger grabs the glow and raindrops in all the right beautiful places.  Quiet and introverted in a new home she doesn't love, Eilis begins timidly working as a clerk at a fine women's department store.  The prissy, gossipy, and more experienced young ladies of the boarding house try to shake Eilis of her diffident nature and encourage her to go out, enjoy herself, and find a man.  

Eilis tags along to dance halls and catches the eye of a young Italian plumber named Tony Fiorello, played by little-known (but not for long) American actor Emory Cohen.  He comports himself like a gentlemen and Eilis reciprocates Tony's affection.  Their burgeoning and inseparable courtship brings Eilis out of her shell.  She begins taking college classes in bookkeeping and carries herself with an assured confidence she lacked when she arrived in the United States.  Her homesickness slowly dissolves into true happiness.  

Their courtship turns to serious love, but a sudden family tragedy forces Eilis to painfully return to Ireland.  While home again, Eilis finds a rekindled comfort in the life she should could have had if she did not leave her roots.  Her new skills earn her a reputable part-time job and her fully-formed cosmopolitan American flourishes of confidence and style garner new attention from an eligible local bachelor named Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson).  He too is a good, decent man to Eilis.  The two grow close in her time at home and thus that central geometric dilemma of romance sweeps over "Brooklyn."

Director James Crowley's roots reside in Irish and British theater.  In tackling feature films, he has been able to uncover the best in younger performers on the cusp of bigger futures.  He steered two then-26-year-olds, Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy, in his debut mob comedy "Intermission."  He helped audiences discover Andrew Garfield in his little-seen 2007 film "Boy A."  For "Brooklyn," Crowley has two new young gems in Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen.  

Saoirse Ronan has been a youthful force with her piercing blue eyes in solid films for a nearly a decade since bursting onto the scene in Joe Wright's "Atonement" in 2007.  Her love interest turn in last year's favorite treat, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," was a prominent display of her bottomless potential stepping towards maturity.  Now 21 years of age, this is a star-making performance in "Brooklyn" for Ronan.  She is radiantly captivating.  You believe her emotion, her shyness, and, in turn, her blossoming assertiveness into womanhood playing out right before your eyes.  Ronan is on another level compared to her American Millennial counterparts like Dakota Fanning, Abigail Breslin, and Anna-Sophia Robb who are also entering their twenties.

Ronan is a screen veteran compared to Emory Cohen's resume composed of small turns in the forgettable Mark Wahlberg vehicle "The Gambler" and playing Bradley Cooper's grown son from the third act of Derek Cianfrance's 2012 opus "The Place Beyond the Pines."  You will remember the 25-year-old's name and smile now after "Brooklyn."  He acts in earnest to stay grounded in every scene.  He's not swinging for the fences with a James Dean impression of 1950s angst.  He earns your honest respect and adoration right there beside Eilis.

Crowley and esteemed screenwriter Nick Hornby ("Wild" and "High Fidelity") have composed a film that is a sumptuous, dulcet, and charming experience in every way.  There is not a disingenuous moment in the entire film.  The dramatic heft of the romance in "Brooklyn" is balanced gorgeously by winning moments of genial comedy.  Very similar in that glowing effect to "Far from the Madding Crowd" starring Carey Mulligan from this past summer, "Brooklyn" is a forthright, approachable, and esteemed historical drama where the dignity and honesty soar to heavenly heights to shine on the plights of love and independence.

LESSON #1: THE IRISH BROGUE PRONUNCIATION OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, PARTICULARLY THE SWEAR WORDS, IS THE ABSOLUTE BEST-- In a survey reported on the "Today" show earlier this year, the Irish accent was found to be the third "most dateable accent" in the world.  Their pronunciation of swear words might be the unquestioned best.  Far thinner than the cavalcade of F-bombs in the Boston-Irish accent of "The Departed" and less refined than a true British accent, the pronunciation of "bitches" in "Brooklyn" is adorable and hilarious.

LESSON #2: THE EXPECTATIONS CONTRARY TO INDEPENDENCE FOR WOMEN-- Eilis was expected abide by the rules of the boarding house and the sponsoring church.  Only certain jobs were open to her, yet Eilis was ahead of her peers seeking a college education.  She could date and eventually marry, but most certainly could not have further relations before marriage.  There are moments in "Brooklyn" where, even within these antiquated boundaries, Eilis is presented with opportunities to make her own choices, which is a commendable position for this time period.

LESSON #3: THE HOMELESSNESS OF THE CLASSIC INTERNATIONAL IMMIGRANT STORY-- Opportunity is what draws women like Eilis and the millions of other Irish immigrants with a price and an absence.  The dearth is the sadder state of affairs from the immigrant's home county that forces those to consider leaving.  The price is all of what those people love and leave behind, be it jobs, homes, culture, faith, commitments, family, and friends, and the realistic possibility they may never see any of those again. 

LESSON #4: CHOOSING LOVE FOR PASSION OR LOVE FOR COMFORT-- Both of Eilis's suitors offer decency, honesty, a good living, and honor.  Both men represent true futures as potential husbands and fathers providing a comfortable lifestyle.  Tony represents her exciting new life and Jim is the unworried solace of home.  Neither is a bad route to take for love and Eilis has a place in both worlds, leaving her with an impossible choice.