It’s 1951, and young Irishwoman Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is moving to America. She hugs her mother and sister goodbye, goes through some trouble on the boat trip across the Atlantic, and ultimately settles in—you guessed it, Brooklyn. Between dealing with a humorously conservative landlady and gossipy roommates, Eilis struggles with acute homesickness and adjusting to her new surroundings. Ultimately, she finds solace in the arms of the strapping Tony (Emory Cohen)—but just as she becomes accustomed to America, a crisis back in Ireland causes Eilis to be torn between her two homes.
Brooklyn is not an American film—it’s an Irish/U.K./Canadian co-production—but it nonetheless takes place entirely within an idealized vision of the American immigrant experience. The movie does not dwell too long on familiar signifiers like Ellis Island (shots of immigrants gazing wondrously upon the Statue of Liberty as their ship draws into port are thankfully absent), but it feels like what a romantically minded young white person might project in their mind when imagining their grandparents or great-grandparents coming to the country. The atmosphere is so gentle that even the most emotionally charged conflicts feel low-pressure. The world is so clean that the dirt on a plumber’s jeans seems decorative, and any swearing is rendered adorable by the inflection of an Irish brogue. Brooklyn is tasteful almost to the point of being anodyne.
There’s nothing wrong with the film adopting a purposefully throwback nature, of course. It’s questionable whether it’s healthy to indulge the mythic ideal of foreigners making their way in America through sheer pluck and bootstrap-leveraging, but Brooklyn isn’t as concerned with an “accurate” depiction of mid-century immigration than it is with exploring the meaning of home and telling an old-fashioned romance story. Still, the movie’s sheer harmlessness frequently kept me disengaged. It doesn’t help that Eilis’s ultimate choice between Ireland and America comes across as a ridiculous stacked-deck no-brainer, particularly since it’s embodied in a love triangle of sorts with the dreamy Tony on one side and the blank Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) on the other.
On every technical level, the film is assured. Nick Hornby’s screenplay, adapted from the book by Colm Tóibín, is full of good humor and humanizing little details. John Crowley directs with a stately leisure that befits the overall nonthreatening tone: The images are calm and track smoothly, with even the handheld-shot intimate scenes never getting too jittery. Ronan again demonstrates that she’s in a class of her own as a young actress; especially in early scenes, Eilis has much more to say physically than vocally, and subtlety is a second language to her. Behind her is a lineup of fully capable character actors, such as Jim Broadbent as a kindly priest and Julie Walters as the landlady. Brooklyn’s dreamy and fleeting pleasures are delivered with the utmost competence—but one can’t help but also imagine the more resonant and insightful film it might have been if it had aimed to elicit more than longing sighs.
11 thoughts on ““Brooklyn” Is Tasteful, Competent, and Utterly Harmless”
Why did you give this film 2/4 stars? This film is certainly more than that and could have easily been a 2.5/4, counting you do not always give high ratings. So far you are the only rotten tomatoes’ critic that has given this film a bad review and your rating lowers the perfect 100% it had.
The film gets 5/5 from me thank you very much.
I was lucky to see the film on 22 October at the “fall” portion of the Miami International Film Festival called “Gems.” Brooklyn is a first rate, classy film that was never written to be edgy or hip. However, the script is beautifully constructed and distills the essence of Mr. Toibin’s novel, and the craft elements are top-notch. It’s a simple story anchored by a remarkable young talent with the assist of a terrific supporting cast.
During my screening, there was much laughter and some sniffles as well. The audience connected with the film from the get-go. Inevitably, there was going to be a critic adding a contrarian opinion. However, upon reflection, it’s hard to fathom this film getting a “Rotten Tomato” on said website. Brooklyn is simply one of the best films of this year, and when the major award noms are announced, this film will do quite well.
Very good but over-rated movie . The Immigrant was a better film . The end while nice made no sense . Kudos on your courage to stand against the sheep.
Right, we are sheep because we were deeply affected by the film. Not the least bit overrated, this is unquestionably the film of the year, and I’ve seen almost 200 in theaters this year and write for a popular site. No “The Immigrant” was NOT a better film, very fine to be sure, but not better.
Congrats on having the only rotten review! I’m sure you’ve gotten more hits on this site than you’ve ever experienced before – I’d never heard of Movie Mezzanine. I wonder what your real feelings for the movie are though……
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So typical of an extremely left wing, radical Jew who views life, especially 1950’s America, through an abjectly false lense of oppression. Sadly, since our model immigrants did pull themselves up by the bootstraps it is offensive to remind America of that fact in the midst of trouble with some immigrants today who are decidedly not model citizens.
The extreme Left loathes anything that is good, clean, traditional, patriotic, moral, and truthful (it destroys their dark narrative of housewives beaten daily in 1950’s America where everyone is racist, anti-semantic, and unnecessarily paranoid of the benevolent USSR!
When my girlfriend and I decide to see the film, I looked at rotten tomatoes in casual interest. 99% – wow! But who could possible dislike the film and for what reason? Oh of course! An extremist, far Leftwing, deviant liberal. Typical
I agree. This movie was fine… but it lacked the weight it could have held. I think the film would have been more appealing to me if they had given her other reasons to stay in both places other than romance. Also, to people in the comments, if someone doesn’t like a movie it doesn’t mean they’re lying just because you liked it. People can disagree and there is no right opinion because art is subjective.
Well, I entirely agree with the reviewer. While there was nothing offensive about the film, I found it oddly not that engaging. A lack of character development bothered me as well as what seemed like far too many staged moments: moment with nasty shopkeeper, stifling moment with Mum and Sis at dinner, sick moment on the ship….all seemed so calculated without stronger backstories or transitions. Locations seemed so confined; Ireland pretty much came down to an unpleasant street as if that was all life had to offer (until she came back) and then there was suddenly some green scenery, a suitable guy to marry and a job that somehow would make Ireland palatable (although before it offered nothing at all) but made sure he was dull enough to dump; it all seemed so manipulative.
I am surprised at how many people were taken by this film; I get that it was sweet and nonviolent and that is a nice change, but I just didn’t find it all that compelling or memorable. Don’t hate me….I just came away feeling unimpressed.
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