Sometimes a film can fail to resonate despite being of the highest quality in every aspect of production. The direction is solid, the acting excellent and the design exquisite, yet somehow it leaves you underwhelmed even in your appreciation of everything that is good about it. Such is the case with Brooklyn, the latest in a long line of popular novels to hit our screens, with none other than Nick Hornby penning the screenplay. Adapted from a book by Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn tells a simple story of a young Irish girl whisked away to New York for a better life, finding love along the way. The story itself is a very conventional romantic drama; girl meets boy and love blossoms but obstacles must be overcome before our young lovers can embark on a life of happily ever after.
Soairse Ronin is Eilis Lacey, the girl in question who secures sponsored passage to New York with a guarantee of a job, something that is in short supply in her homeland. After the initial struggles inherent in adapting to life in a foreign country, Eilise starts to find her feet thanks to the assistance of kindly Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), an understanding boss (Jessica Pare) and the eccentric Mrs Keough (Julie Walters), the woman who runs the boarding house she shares with several other young women. Soon enough, she meets Italian charmer Tony (Emory Cohen) at a church dance and romance ensues, although the 1950’s setting ensures that it is all very chaste. When Eilise receives tragic news from home, she returns to Ireland, is wooed by local lad Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) and finds herself under pressure from family and friends to stay. Oh, what is a girl to do? There are no real surprises as to which course of action our protagonist pursues, a decision made easier by a couple of characters who are just grating beyond belief and seem totally at odds with everybody else who populates the narrative.
Eilis’s mother (Jane Brennan) is a selfish shrew whose quietly demanding nature is a burden to both Eilise and her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), while local store owner Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan) is a bizarre construct whose abusive attitude towards both staff and customers is ridiculous in the extreme. However, by and large, the characters are a lovely bunch in a lovely old-style movie that is unlikely to offend anybody. Cohen is charming as the kind of boyfriend that any mother would love and even Gleeson’s Farrell is a perfectly pleasant young man. The problem is that none of them are likely to leave any kind of lasting impression once you leave the cinema.
Director John Crowley and his creative team have crafted the look and sounds of Brooklyn with considerable care, delivering an immigrant story that beautifully illustrates the struggles of trying to adjust in a new environment. Exquisitely photographed and edited with a captivating and talented lead actress, Brooklyn is a very well-made film that works as both a coming-of-age-drama and a love story. Since her breakout role in Atonement as a 13-year-old, Ronin’s career hasn’t perhaps reached the heights that many expected – despite good performances in Hanna and The Grand Budapest Hotel – but this might just be her most mature performance yet, hitting all of the emotional cues and character subtleties as a young woman with dignity, determination, strength and sensitivity. Charming and heart-felt, Brooklyn is a throwback to the era of Classic Hollywood where everything looks lovely and the story follows a very predictable path, which will no doubt please many people very much, but ultimately it is this absence of anything new that serves as the fatal flaw in a film that is otherwise impressive.