****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME MINOR SPOILERS!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL MINOR SPOILER ALERT!!****
MY RATING: SKIP IT IN THE THEATRE, SEE IT ON NETFLIX OR CABLE.
Brooklyn, written by Nick Hornby and directed by John Crowley, is the story of Eilis Lacey, a young woman from the small town of Enniscorthy, Ireland, who leaves her home and starts a new life in Brooklyn, New York in 1952. The film stars the luminous Saiorse Ronan as Eilis, with supporting turns from Domnhall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters and Emory Cohen. The film has been nominated for three Academy Awards this year for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.
As the son of Irish and Scottish immigrants, and a native son of the beloved borough in the title, I was very excited to see Brooklyn, as Eilis Lacey's story is not dissimilar to my own mothers. The immigrant tale of Eilis Lacey is one that many, if not most of us, can relate to. As someone who has moved cross country from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, I related to Eilis story as well, not in setting, but in substance. Whether we have moved to another country, or moved to the big city from the suburbs, or vice versa, we all have to leave the nest and venture out on our own at some point in our lives. Brooklyn tells the story of how grueling, but imperative and ultimately rewarding that journey away from our home, and to our new home, can be. "You can never go home again" is a true statement not because "home" has changed, but because "you" have changed by leaving home. Eilis Lacey's circular odyssey in Brooklyn teaches us that the initial fear of leaving the security of home can transform into the exhilarating freedom of being away from the gossip, prying eyes and small minds of a place you have outgrown, if you only have the courage to embark on the adventure. At some point in the immigrant's journey, returning "home" no longer means going back to the place of your past, but rather returning to the place of your present and future, and Brooklyn makes that very clear.
Another reason I was excited to see Brooklyn, is that it stars Saiorse Ronan, is one of the great actresses working today. Ronan certainly she proves her mettle and earns her OScar nomination in tackling the role of Eilis Lacey. Ronan imbues Eilis with such a vivid inner life that she is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. Director John Crowley, on occasion, wisely lets the camera linger on Ronan well after the action of the scene has ended, and there are stunningly effective moments of brilliance that he captures by doing little more than letting Saoirse Ronan be present and fill the screen.
Ronan's subtlety and mastery of craft are really something to behold. She has a deft touch and never imposes herself onto a scene, but rather inhabits her character so fully that you feel as if she isn't acting at all…which is the goal of all great actors. Ronan is not a showy actress, her strength lies in being genuine and grounded, and allowing the rooted humanity of her characters to shine through. Ronan envelops Eilis in a thick coat of melancholy when we first meet her, a young and awkward girl struggling to make her way in a strange new world. As the film progresses, Ronan adeptly allows Eilis to gradually bloom into a weary and a wary young woman, and then blossom into an adult woman who embraces her incandescent power.
Besides being remarkably talented, Saoirse Ronan also has the benefit of being a classic beauty. She is so beautiful that she would be right at home in any of the great museums of the world, but she is not the typical "Hollywood" beauty. Her beauty is an approachable one, making it a marvelous asset but never a distraction. While the camera loves her face, it is Ronan's immense skill and prodigious talent that fills the big screen. There is not a lone disingenuous moment from Ronan in the entirety of Brooklyn, which is a great credit to her commitment, as the script could have easily led her to moments of melodrama.
As great as Saoirse Ronan is, the film never fully lives up to the stellar work she does in it. The first half of the film is very compelling, buttressed by solid supporting work from Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters. But mid-way through the film, when a love story comes in to play, the wheels come off the wagon. The biggest reason for this is that the love interest, Tony Fiorello, is of no interest at all. He is a one dimensional, cardboard cutout of a character. The actor playing Fiorello, Emory Cohen, does the best he can, but his character is a weak spot in the script and Cohen seems an ill fit for the role. This mis-casting and under-writing is devastating to the rest of the film. The Tony Fiorello character is pivotal for the ensuing narrative of the film to be even remotely believable, and sadly, Cohen's Tony is not believable in the least. In fact, the entire Fiorello family is an albatross around the neck of the film. The characters in the Fiorello family would be more at home in an old Prince spaghetti commercial than they are in Brooklyn. None of the characters in the Fiorello family are credible and neither is the relationship between Eilis and Tony, which is the death knell of Brooklyn.
In the last quarter of the film, Domnhall Gleeson shows up as local Irishman Jim Farrell, and does his usual quality work, but it is too little too late to save the film. Brooklyn would have been much better served with much more of Domnhall Gleeson's Jim and much less of Emory Cohen's Tony. But alas, 'Twas not to be.
Despite the love story mis-step, Brooklyn does get a lot of things right. It is a well made period piece with flawless costumes and set pieces. Brooklyn is also visually exquisite, as cinematographer Yves Belanger uses a delicate palette to paint a lush picture of 1950's Brooklyn and rural Ireland.
In conclusion, Brooklyn is a gorgeous looking film, highlighted by a wondrous performance from the magnificent Saoirse Ronan. Sadly, a fatal flaw in the script and the casting had a devastating impact on the film that undermines many of the positives it had going for it, rendering Brooklyn a mixed bag at best. In my opinion, Brooklyn is worth seeing on Netflix or on cable, but it is not worth your time and hard-earned money to make the punishing trek to go see it in the theatre.