Release: 29th February 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
An Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan) in 1950s New York falls for a tough Italian plumber (Emory Cohen), but faces temptation when her life develops in unexpected ways.
There is a moment in Brooklyn when Eilis enters into the realms of a Nicholas Sparks wet dream. It is a watershed moment for two reasons. First, because the film suddenly 1-80s from fish-out-of-water comedy to big fish in a small pond drama; injecting a little bit of life into proceedings. And second, because it is a moment that threatens to turn an otherwise pleasant little movie into nothing more than tolerable shlock. In other words, at times this is a film that almost overplays its hand.
Director John Crowley is a really rather leftfield choice to direct this grown up equivalent of An American Tail. Other than being Irish – check – his previous works have included True Detective (season 2), Closed Circuit (conspiracy theory turkey), Boy A (wrist-slashing prison drama), and a film in which Colin Farrell headbutts a woman; Intermission. So…yeah, go figure. But it works. Meanwhile, screenwriter Nick Hornby seems ripe for this sort of tale. It’s about self-discovery, personal growth, cultural evolution, and has an insular protagonist. Together, the two create a film in Brooklyn that speaks to the kind of romanticism immigrants share for the American dream, but also to America’s own view of itself. Forget the asylum-like processing stations of Ellis Island, or decades of stigma that still populate Uncle Sam’s immigration laws; this is an America were people genuinely want to help each other, and were the Catholic Church isn’t a wasp’s nest of paedophiles and philanderers. If you want the alternative, might I suggest Felicia’s Journey or current Oscar rival, Spotlight. Brooklyn’s mission statement is that it’s nice to have sweetness in your life; and this film has enough sugar to put Willy Wonka in a diabetic coma.
Brooklyn is coloured by Eilis’ own sense of worth. The Ireland she leaves is damp and dreary, and her experiences on the boat over to – and initial experiences in – New York aren’t much better; she is literally home sick. As the film develops, so does its colour palette and geography. Eilis goes from standing in rooms and behind counters to running down streets, beaches and hillsides. Even her experiences later in the film encapsulate that feeling one has when seeing old lives through a modern lens. It is this kind of on-the-nose sentimentality which makes Brooklyn a lovely ode to, as writer Colm Tóibín calls it, the “secret history” of two nations.
Saoirse Ronan gives Eilis a ‘don’t-you-just-want-to-pinch-her-cheeks!?’ quality. But the reason she’s been nominated for an Oscar isn’t just because she’s the shadow of Peter Sellers in Being There, but because she literally matures before our very eyes. There is a very real sense that Eilis develops from girl to woman over the film’s running time. It is a subtle yet evocative development that never feels anything but honest; a truly marvellous piece of acting that we have been watching Ronan polish since her breakthrough in Hanna. Everyone else in the film is rather lovely, much in the way the cast of Paddington were lovely. There are no real ‘stand out’ characters, but plenty of little offerings along the way which populate Eilis’ world with a Roald Dahl-like menagerie of charmers, crack pots and the odd meanie or two. Brooklyn is the very epitome of light viewing.
Film Grade: B-
You probably wouldn’t expect the target demographic for Brooklyn to be bothered with special features, so it is no wonder the blu-ray comes so light on material.
An insightful yet awkwardly stacked pair of Interviews with Ronan and Tóibín offer nice insights into the book, the film and the subject’s relationship with both. Remnants of these are seen again in a brief Making Of feature.
There is also a selection of Deleted Scenes which revel little extra about the film. One interesting scene, however, depicts a New York apparently devoid of racial tensions as well as Xenophobia. Or at least, one which does not tolerate racial discrimination. For some reason this was a scene that didn’t make the final cut…discuss.
Special Features Grade: D
Not a ‘chick flick’ per se, but definitely a film that flirts with the conventions of one. Thankfully its weary love story is elevated by some wonderful performances, and is anchored by Ronan’s magnanimous Eilis.