Brooklyn (2015)

Review #1,266

Director:  John Crowley
Cast:   Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Julie Walters, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent
Plot:  An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with a local. When her past catches up with her, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.

Genre:  Drama / Romance

Awards:  Won 1 BAFTA - Best British Film.  Nom. for 3 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Leading Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay
Runtime:  111min
Rating:  NC16 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language.
International Sales:  HanWay Films
Singapore Distributor:  20th Century Fox


“I wish that I could stop feeling that I want to be an Irish girl in Ireland.”

Another one of those period piece Oscar baits, Brooklyn seems to feel like it is made to try to win awards, and hopes that a good story comes out of it, rather than the other way where story, characterization and craft complement each other perfectly (think of Carol (2015)).  Well, at least Brooklyn is a better film than the underwhelming biopic The Danish Girl (2015). 

While Brooklyn is a decent and earnest romance drama, one can't help but feel its strong production values bursting at its seams, as if waving the flag of victory.  It is a victory for gloss and polish, not quite the barometer for marked excellence, but at least the picture looks ravishing.

Written by Nick Hornby, who penned An Education (2009) as a starring vehicle for Carey Mulligan, Brooklyn has its own leading lady in the form of the maturing if effervescent Saoirse Ronan, best known for her breakout role in Atonement (2007) and as a trained assassin in Hanna (2011). 

She plays Eilis, a young Irish woman who has a chance to sail to New York to have a better life.  She leaves her mother and sister reluctantly, but soon finds the promised land every bit as daunting but beautiful.  She also finds love in a dashing young Italian man. 

Operating as an immigrant's journey, Brooklyn largely navigates the right narrative beats, even if some of the events that occur unexpectedly feel forced upon, perhaps this is symptomatic of how sweet and saccharine the tone of the film is – if it was more raw, the storytelling could have benefited from the naturalism.

Ronan's standout performance helps Brooklyn glide past its less convincing parts.  I think hers is an even better performance than Oscar frontrunner Brie Larson of Room (2015).  She gives the right balance of likability, sensitivity and emotional range, never manipulating our feelings.  Eilis is a character whom we can identify with, and throughout her dilemmatic journey, we feel ourselves supporting her decisions and actions.

Winning the Best British Film at the BAFTAs, Brooklyn is a well-made movie to a fault, directed by John Crowley (who made Boy A (2007)).  It’s not a must-watch, but if you like Saoirse Ronan, no one is stopping you. 

Verdict:  Feels too saccharine and glossy, but it features a standout performance by Saoirse Ronan. 


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