Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley, written by Nick Hornby, and adapted from the novel by Colm Toibin, is an old-fashioned film, one that I would call square if it weren’t for a few cuss words and a fully-clothed but passionate deflowering scene. It concerns a young woman who tries to find her place in the world, torn between her hometown and her new home, and a man that represents each place.
Saoirse Ronan is Eilis, who lives in County Wexford, Ireland with her widowed mother and older sister. She has a part-time job at a grocery working for a horrible old woman. Her sister, realizing Eilis doesn’t have any prospects, arranges for her to move to New York, where a priest (Jim Broadbent) has gotten her lodging and a job.
She takes the boat to New York (hint: don’t eat on the boat when the seas are rough) and starts her job as a shop girl. She rooms with a kooky landlady (Julie Walters) and several other young woman. She is horribly homesick, but soon, at a church dance, meets a feller, Tony. He is not Irish, but Italian (he just likes Irish girls). They hit it off but a family tragedy calls her back home. While there she meets another man (Domnhall Gleeson). She’s pushed to stay in Ireland, and conflicted about what to do.
Brooklyn is a slow-paced, easy-going film that except for those things I mentioned up top wouldn’t upset your grandma, especially if she’s Irish. But at times it’s too slow-paced. Crowley favors lingering close-ups of his leading lady, Ronan. I especially liked one early in the film, when she watches with pleasure as her friend dances with a handsome man. But after a while I kept thinking, “get on with it.”
And though Ronan is very good and keeps things interesting, she invests more in the role than the script does. She’s basically a saint. Except for the small matter of being in love with two men at the same time, she’s given no flaws, has no moments of anger or bad humor. Walters, when one woman moves out, gives her the best room in the house because she’s so virtuous. When she does give her virginity to Tony it’s a wonder she even knew what sex was.
The film has rose-colored glasses when it comes to New York in the 1950s. There is some comedy when Tony (played by Emory Cohen) takes Ronan home for dinner. His younger brother blurts out that the family doesn’t like the Irish. That’s played for laughs, but just scratches at the surface. There are plenty of Italians who don’t like the Irish, and it’s not funny. I’m struck by a line from The Sopranos when Christopher pictures Hell: “An Irish bar where it’s St. Patrick’s Day every day.”
We also see Ronan as she goes to work, and twice she’s waiting on a corner with a black woman (it’s strange that they didn’t notice that they used the same extras in two different scenes). This is the only sign of a black face, and I was drawn to that face, wondering what her story was. Brooklyn, as suggested by the title, is presented not only as a physical place, but a state of mind, where everything is great. In a further bit of perhaps unintended humor, Cohen takes Ronan to an empty field on Long Island, where he is going to build a house for them. I can only imagine that today that is some soulless suburb like Mineola or Roosevelt, full of tract housing.
Brooklyn is an accomplished film, but not a particularly interesting one. The more time passes the less I think of it. Ronan will probably get an Oscar nomination and I’d like to see her in more roles, particularly those that are more complex.