Rating: B/ This is the kind of movie you sort of have to be in the mood for; a slow-paced, low-key period piece with a vivid sense of time and place. The love story at the center of the film is endearing if nothing spectacular, but the excellent acting and instantly empathizeable heroine make it an enjoyable experience. It’s like a slice of life from days long since past.
It’s 1952, and Eilis (beautifully played by Saoirse.Ronan) is a shy young woman living in a small Irish town where everybody knows everybody’s business. Looking for a new life in the land of opportunity, she journeys by boat to America, where she moves into a boarding house run by the salty Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) and gets a job in a department store, where she is encouraged to interact more naturally with the customers.
Eilis suffers from terrible homesickness and writes long, sad notes to her sister (Fiona Glasscot), full of lonesomeness and longing, but she finds herself beginning to enjoy her life in America when she meets the handsome Italian-American Tony (Emory Cohen,) with which she strikes up a gentle romance. Ultimately, it is tragedy that brings Eilis back to her native country of Ireland, but her mother promptly leaps upon setting her up with an Irish boy (Domhnall Gleeson) despite the inappropriateness and suddenness of the situation.
Based on a novel by Colm Toibin, and co-written by Toibin and British writer Nick Hornby, Brooklyn is a delightful immigration drama marred by some pretty serious problems with the script. The actors all do a wonderful job. and the film gives a fly-on-the-wall look at what it might be like to be an Irish immigrant in America in the 50’s, but the development of the final act leaves a lot to be desired. We end up liking Tony, Eilis’ love interest. He’s flawed, not particularly book smart, but he’s a gentleman and an all-around well-meaning person.
We see a lot of Tony throughout the movie, meet his family, and get a good feel for his character. However, although we see that Eilis becomes quite fond of Domhnall Gleeson’s character Jim in the second half of the film, it’s hard to see why. It’s not that Jim is a bad person- serious, a little dull, but nothing too offensive- the desirable qualities of his character are scarcely even touched upon. Short on charm and character development, Jim is a romantic interest we can’t get behind, and we really need to understand in this kind of movie why Eilis fancies him and why he threatens her relationship with Tony.
Since the character of Jim, who should be a pivotal part of the movie, seems a little flat, the final half hour or so of this film feels somewhat wasted. I haven’t read the book on which this movie was based (though at this point I would be interested to), so I don’t know if the novel fills in on a few of the things left a bit unclear in the film (For instance, why Eilis dislikes Dorothy (Jenn Murray,) one of the girls at the boarding house so much, when she seems pretty inoffensive if a bit air-headed,) and why the bland-as-toast Jim catches Eilis’ eye, when she and Tony seem to have a genuine connection.
It could be that Eilis doesn’t like Jim much at all, and that marrying him is her ticket to stay in Ireland, but that seems unlikely. We know Domhnall Gleeson, son of the wonderful Brendon Gleeson, is an effective actor (judging from his performance in Ex Machina,) so why does the film give him so little to do? Nevertheless, Brooklyn is a charming movie, despite it’s narrative flaws. Filmmaker John Crowley has created a rarity; a quiet, contemplative film in a world of movies that are both enormously loud and enormously forgettable. That ought to count for something in the grand scheme of things.