Brooklyn is a rather sweet fish out of water style historical drama that has some fantastic performances, but this doesn’t really elevate it to anything more than just an average viewing experience. It’s the sort of film your mum would really like yet the character drama only stretches so far. The situations the characters face are performed fantastically, however, relationships with family members are just expected and not really developed, making these dramatic moments far less emotional than the movie believes they are.
It’s 1952 and Eilis Lacey is a young woman from a small town in Ireland who is sent to America to find a better future than the one she’ll have at home. The story follows her struggle through homesickness and family troubles as she falls in love with an Italian man. She travels back to Ireland to spend time with her mother, but when she gets there more options have opened up to her to start a life closer to home. Both places have things she desires which ultimately lead to internal tension as she can’t decide which place to settle.
Saoirse Ronan does a fantastic performance as she effortlessly takes us through the ups and downs as Eilis tries to rapidly adapt to the big city. There’s a natural progression to the character as she starts out rather timid and grows to become more confident. She starts as an outsider in the bustling city, not accustom to the formalities of her residence, but upon returning to Ireland, she is yet again an outsider to the life she once lived. Subtle touches, such as the clothes she wears throughout, give an indication to these changes in the character. In Brooklyn, she starts out wearing rather drab, plain looking clothes in and amongst the vibrant city only to return and stick out like a sore thumb compared to her countryside origins. This is only one small section of an overall fantastic production design that is a delight to watch.
There are two lovely scenes both set around a dinner table. One where we get to meet Emory Cohen’s character’s family and another where we meet all the girls living under Julie Walter’s roof. The conversations feel genuine and they have just enough humour to make them truly charming.
There was this one particular moment that really stood out to me. When Eilis finally makes her way through customs, she opens the door to start her new life and a bright light floods into the room. I thought this was a lovely piece of lighting that symbolises both how bright her future in America will be but also how blinding it can be to a person from her background.
The relationships in Brooklyn are well developed and have a natural pace that keeps the story engaging. It’s the relationships that we as an audience are expected to care about, such as between her mother and her sister in Ireland, that fall flat as a majority of the drama occurs around them and relies heavily on your investment. You don’t see much of their interaction as Eilis is on the boat to America in the first 10 minutes of the movie. There’s not much that shows any sort of deep bond between these characters and it’s only until later that we get to see that. This ultimately made me care little about much of her time spent in Ireland which, for a movie about a character torn between two places, made the movie rather unexciting.
There are also some nice performances from Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent scattered throughout which helped elevate some rather standard scenes. But at the end of the day, this movie is nice. Just nice. The performances are well done, but the second half fell flat for me such that the tension pulling her between two places was only pulling me from one side. It’s a sweet little movie that’s perfect for a Sunday afternoon, but not one you should be flocking to see.