If you want Oscar nominations, you need to put Domhnall Gleeson in your movie. He was in four films released in 2015 that got multiple nominations. Brooklyn was one of those movies (alongside Star Wars, The Revenant and Ex Machina), although he doesn’t show up until the second half.
Based on Colm Toibin’s book, Brooklyn is about young Irish woman Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), whose sister Rose and a priest have organised for her to have a new life in New York, where they believe she will have more opportunities. After a difficult crossing, Eilis starts a new job at a department store while living at a boarding house in Brooklyn, and begins training to be a bookkeeper.
At first she is terribly homesick, but things look up after she meets and falls in love with local boy Tony (Emory Cohen). However, after a family tragedy calls her back to Ireland, she finds that there’s a comfortable life possible for her there too, including a job, a nice man (played by Gleeson) and the comforts of a familiar world. Ultimately Eilis must choose whether her future lies in Ireland or America.
Brooklyn is a very nice film, and I mean that in the full, double-edged sword sense of ‘nice’. It’s well-acted, pretty to watch, tells a pleasant and often interesting story and absolutely has its heart in the right place. However, it’s also a little too pleasant and nice for its own good so that while it’s never dull, it’s also slightly difficult to feel fully pulled in by it.
Brooklyn is a film that trades on nostalgia, built from the ground up for those who either had family members who once emigrated from Ireland to America, or whose families once came to America themselves. It is a bit of a fantasy of the journey and what it means. For them, there will undoubtedly be an extra layer of emotion, but for everyone else it’s a fairly charming movie that never fully ignites. In its desire to be nice and gentle, the stakes never quite feel high enough and whenever real emotion feels like it’s about to break to the fore, the film gently pulls back (I did wonder whether it assumes its main audience will be old people, and so the makers were worried they’d kill them if anything too exciting happened).
I don’t want to sound too harsh as I certainly didn’t have a bad time watching it, and Brooklyn is certainly a great showcase for Saoirse Ronan’s talents. Three Oscar nominations and no more feels just about right, and its Best British Film win at the BAFTA was perhaps a little more than it deserved (indeed, I’d have voted for all the other nominees ahead of it).
Overall Verdict: Brooklyn is the perfect film for those who complain modern movies have too much action, drama and swearing. They will adore it, but everyone else is likely to think it’s nice, but wish a bit more would happen a bit quicker.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac