With a keen eye for period detail, this yarn of an Irish lass immigrating to the U.S. in the 1950s will likely win the hearts of those old enough to feel nostalgic about the period. There’s an unshakeable authenticity about Brooklyn, to the point that what we witness feels more mundane than entertaining.
The story centres around Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), a nice young Irish girl with a dearth of prospects in her homeland, who like many of her contemporaries, sets sail to America in search of a brighter future.
For much of the first act Eilis quietly observes her new surroundings and actually comes across as far less interesting than those around her, especially her larger than life and quick to judge landlady Mrs Kehoe (a scene stealing Julie Walters providing some much needed mirth).
Things get meatier in the second act. Eilie meets an enthusiastic Italian New Yorker, Tony (Emory Cohen) who promptly sweeps her off her feet. There’s a genuine charge between the two and a light, breezy swoon begins to take hold.
With the third act comes an unexpected shift back to Ireland where the seeds are sown for a lot more drama than is actually delivered. After what we’ve witnessed up to this point, there’s something vaguely unconvincing and unsatisfying about the direction the narrative takes.
Considering director John Crowley is responsible for the jaw droppingly good Boy A, this comes as somewhat of a disappointment. Technically it’s a handsome production, but the drama never shifts out of second gear. And while Crowley has a great cast at his disposal, the characters seldom truly engage.
As an incurable romantic, I really wanted to be transported by Eilie and her predicaments, but whatever made Colm Toibin’s novel so beloved has been lost somewhere on the way to the screen, most notably in the final act. What on paper sounds like a classic romance saga just doesn’t come through. There’s some hot chemistry between Ronan and Cohen in the story’s mid-section, but a conspicuous absence of it thereafter makes for a slowly deflating crawl to the film’s anti-climactic conclusion.
Given the romance angle ultimately fails to deliver, it’s hard to imagine the chick flick crowd being reeled in. The film’s best bet lies with more mature filmgoers, who will no doubt find some charm in Brooklyn’s solid production values and rather old-fashioned, modest restraint.
Brooklyn releases nationally on February 11
Richard Leathem @dickiegee