They just don’t make ’em like Brooklyn (opening today) anymore. Set in late 1950s Brooklyn and Ireland, Brooklyn looks and feels like an old-fashioned movie, in the most complimentary of ways. It is a tale of romance, all the while romanticizing the era, New York City and the American immigrant experience itself. It is based on the award-winning 2009 novel of the same name, by Colm Toibin.
Saoirse Ronan (giving a strong performance) plays Eilis, a young woman living in Ireland with her mom (Jane Brennan) and sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), who dreams of moving to America. She finally gets her opportunity, and she makes the trek across the ocean, arriving at Ellis Island and rooming at the all-female Irish boarding house, ran by the buttoned-up, yet spunky landlady (Julie Walters), also overseen by the compassionate priest, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent).
It’s a shock coming from the hills of Ireland to the big city. Eilis lands a job at a high-end department store as a clerk, but her uncomfortableness doesn’t even allow her to smile at her customers. It isn’t until she meets the dashing young Italian hunk, Tony (Emery Cohen), that things start changing for the young lass. The two fall in love, and she begins to see a future for herself in America.
But tragic news brings her back to Ireland. Leaving Tony behind and promising to return to him, she heads back home to tend to her family. Wouldn’t you know, once back, she meets a nice Irish boy Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson). Suddenly, Eilis finds herself torn between two men, each representing a unique way of life. She struggles to deal with her American future she had built for herself, and her Irish past that she had thought she had left behind.
Ronan carries the film and gives it a sense of gravity, and for the first half of the movie, you will find yourself swept up in her story…a story that many of us share in and can relate to, that of the American immigrant. For that first hour or so, the film is surprisingly funny, and structured in a curious way, where we venture out into the city with Eilis, returning home to the boarding house each night as the landlady grills her tenants, and then back out again. We are experiencing America for the first time along with our wide-eyed protagonist.
Unfortunately, much of the film feels a bit too neat and glossed-over. We get the underlying themes and the choices facing Eilis, but the two gentlemen who woo for her attention are straight up stereotypes given very little depth. And once we meet Tony, we are rooting against his Irish counterpart from the get-go. While Eilis is presented as torn, the movie slants everything towards the American way, making what is supposed to be her deep struggle feel more like a ponderous afterthought.
Brooklyn is a beautiful film that will evoke a sense of nostalgia, and Saoirse Ronan shines throughout. But the film, thematically, spends most of its time in the shallow end of the pool. This feels like a movie, instead of transcending the medium and being about real people.
Genre: Drama, Romance
Run Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emery Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Fiona Glascott
Based on the book by Colm Toibin
Screenplay by Nick Hornby (Wild, An Education, About a Boy)
Directed by John Crowley (Closed Circuit, Is Anybody There?, Boy A, Intermission)
Opens locally on Friday, Nov 20, 2015 (check for show times).