Director: John Crowley
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters and Michael Zegen
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: November 6th
Smart but painfully single, Eilis (Ronan) has been given a chance by her sister to move to New York for a better life for herself. There’s not much for women in 1950s Wexford, so off she goes, leaving her sister behind to mind their single mother. Once she settles in Brooklyn thanks to a kindly priest (Jim Broadbent), living in a women-only boarding house lorded over by Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters), she gets a job in a department store, starts night classes to study accountancy, but still feels painfully homesick. That all falls away when she meets Italian plumber Mario… no, sorry, Tony (Emory Cohen) and the two slowly fall in love. Just as things are going her way, she gets word of a tragedy back home in Ireland and has to return home for a short while, and before long she meets Jim (Gleeson), is given a job as an accountant, and finds herself being set up with a potential dream-life back in Wexford. Torn between two men, two countries and two very different lives, Eilis has gone from a girl with nothing to a woman with too much to choose from.
Setting up an old school romance isn’t easy, especially in this day and age of nothing but cynicism and snark. It’s made ever harder by Brooklyn’s insistence on being so old school with its broad strokes clichés and diddly-eye music that for the first ten minutes you feel like you’re watching an old advertisement for home-made bread. However, once the movie eases off a little on the heavy-handedness, a certain warmth begins to creep in and you just can’t help but get swept up in Eilis’ dilemma.
Sure, it’s probably a bit slight for some, but back in 50s Ireland, things were different, and Brooklyn has no issue in shining a light on our old small-minded ways. It helps that Irishman John Crowley (Intermission) is behind the camera, as he can push the limits of the Irish clichés without snapping through into a full-on corniness, and it helps that he has author Nick Horny adapting from Colm Toibin’s, well, full-on corny novel. There’s also Ronan’s fantastic performance, one which grounds the audience immediately on her side, and completely empathizes with a woman who wants what’s best for her without hurting anyone else in the process. Cohen is almost inhumanly cute as her love interest, like his DNA was spliced with a puppy, and Walters steals every scene she’s in thanks to an incomparable sense of comic timing. Gleeson is fine but doesn’t have much to do, as his character doesn’t actually appear until 30 minutes from the end, and it’s only here that the movie stumbles, wanting us to engage in both sides of Eilis’ love-life equally, despite spreading the time spent Cohen and Gleeson drastically unevenly.
More often than not, the phrase “They don’t make them like they used to” is a bit of a misnomer, because more often than, modern audiences don’t want them to be made like they used to. But that’s not the case here, as Brooklyn deserves to get mentioned in the same breath as The Notebook or Jerry Maguire. Making a romance movie isn’t hard, but making a GOOD romantic movie without falling back on comedy is hard. Brooklyn just made it look easy.