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'Brooklyn': A Movie Destination
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic
05:20PM / Friday, December 11, 2015
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Saoirse Ronan's Irish Ellis Lacey finds life and love in the New World of 1950s Brooklyn.

Once upon a time, there were many more movies made like "Brooklyn" ... films that had a beginning, middle and end, and told a good story with a philosophical lesson or two to take home.

Oh, they weren't always as well realized as this coming-of-age saga about a young woman who emigrates from Ireland to Brooklyn in search of better opportunity. But they managed to engage us without a bunch of characters from alternate worlds, unending monster battles and a shameful body count ... not that there's anything wrong with that.

Understand, I don't want trouble from either the laser-makers union or the special-effects people who pile up the combat casualties for those short attention span types gratified by a speeding up of the life process, the more unnatural and violent the better. Still, a break from that cacophonous bedlam which highlights the shameful contradictions of a society that otherwise features itself civilized, must surely be good for one's mental health.

Granted, Saoirse Ronan's beauteous-eyed Ellis Lacey has her share of real-life problems, including an evil witch of a former employer hell-bent on spreading unhappiness wherever she can. However, there's none of that Devil incarnate or scary alien/omen stuff to impede our transplant's difficult transition from the Emerald Isle to the world-famous borough.

The dialect, colloquialisms and customs of Brooklyn, circa 1952, will prove challenge enough.

Director John Crowley's film, adapted by Nick Hornby from Colm Tóibin's novel, elegantly informs that good movies oftentimes tap a personal experience, either obvious or tangential. Watching Ellis wend her way through the fears and great expectations of her Brooklyn adventure reminded that it had been some time since I pondered my own family's tale following World War II.

Although but a babe when we washed ashore, growing to tyke-hood I became aware of the continual learning process and adjustments required of us new Americans. My parents and big sister got pretty good at it. It was no big deal for me. I quickly planted my flag and established my ethos: the Yankees, especially Mickey Mantle, hot dogs, and cowboy movies. A fool's paradise, it would be a while before I found out that those first six months across the Atlantic would disqualify me from ever being president. I'm still trying to come to grips with it.

But the thought here courtesy of my egocentric meanderings is that Ellis' travail resurrects a type of chronicle that could once practically claim its own genre in American literature. It is the immigrant experience, traditionally what we stand for and yet a constant bone of contention. We open and close the spigot, guard our borders zealously and not so much, trying to protect our freedoms, while deciding judiciously and/or thoughtlessly how best to share them.

Daunting as it all may be for Ellis, who puts down stakes in a cozy but gossip-infested boarding house and gains employment in a posh department store, she soon discovers that it's not just freedom from political repression or economic inequity that's important. Rather, it goes much deeper. It's about deportment, expression, respect for the individual and all the other intangible reasons why a good portion of the world's population still wants to become Americans, misled

Thus, intertwining its way through Ellis' personal story is a subtly educative civics lesson, as pertinent today as it was when the Declaration of Independence was written. As hoped for, this all works to our winsome émigré's advantage, especially in that pursuit of happiness department.

You see, the homesickness that just won't seem to relinquish its oppressive grip is considerably relieved at the absorbing account's first turning point, when Ellis meets a fella, a real nice guy,

OK, so he's a Dodger fan. Otherwise, Tony, nicely exacted by Emory Cohen, is a sincere, garrulous sort; a hardworking plumber whose crystal ball tells him the pot of gold may reside in those as yet undeveloped fields of Long Island. Ellis is smitten by his attentive enthusiasm and contagious optimism. It's as if those Old World bugaboos are swallowed up by the length and breadth of the New World's promise. But alas, the apparently perfect romance is tested as the plot heads for its second defining moment. Tragedy summons Ellis home.

It gets tricky. We're a little worried and, considering a new option the protagonist begins to mull back in the old sod, are wont to second-guess what we fear is some rather uncharacteristic behavior. But the subsequent, mildly soap opera-ish turn of events, at first seemingly unsolvable, adds yet another layer of instructive theatre via some comparative sociology. So, dear filmgoer, travel though ye may to strange and distant galaxies, the suggestion here is that every so often it's nice to revisit the sort of narrative you find in good old "Brooklyn."

"Brooklyn," rated PG-13, is a Fox Searchlight Pictures release directed by John Crowley and stars Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson. Running time: 111 minutes

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