Period dramas can either be dreadfully boring, or wonderfully entertaining, depending on the approach taken. There are some period dramas that tell a true story, and others that tell fictional stories set in the past. Brooklyn falls into the latter group, and while it certainly was not dreadfully boring by any stretch of the imagination, but I did want more from it, but it is saved by some wonderful moments and a towering lead performance.
Saoirse Ronan is an actress who has been around for such a long time, yet is only 21. In her career, which seems to be much longer than it actually is, she has garnered critical acclaim, commercial success and an Academy Award nomination. She has effortlessly drifted between blockbusters and independent arthouse fare, and has shown her ability to do drama and comedy, with equal sucess. I am well aware that this is a review for a film, not a retrospective on the career of its very charismatic star. However, it is important to note that Brooklyn would be a star-making turn for any other young actress, but for Ronan, it is quite simply another wonderful performance she gives in her brilliant filmography. In clear, certain words, I can say that a film like Brooklyn depends on its lead, and even a slightly older actress would have trouble with this material, but Ronan has such charm and a certain kind of maturity in her acting abilities, she has the rare distinction of both looking youthful and innocent, but having an acting style that is wise beyond her years. It is because of this that Brooklyn is allowed to success and become such a fantastic film, all because of Ronan’s fantastic performance.
I want to heap praise on this film, I really do. However, it was deeply flawed. The cast is all over the place. Emory Cohen, who was cast as the male lead, does not seem to possess nearly enough charisma for this film. I thought he was fine, but he hardly gave a performance that was worthy of being the romantic co-lead of this film, and while I thought he was good enough of an actor, he would’ve been more suited for a more minor role, because one of the biggest flaws of this film is that Ronan and Cohen don’t seem to have much chemistry, and in moments where Ronan should have been able to have some more sedate moments, she had to carry the scenes with Cohen as well, and thus she did the heavy lifting of the relationship storyline, which was very disappointing. Julie Walters, one of the most talented actresses of her generation, was great here as the strict housemistress who runs the boarding establishment that Ronan’s character finds herself. Walters is fantastic, but she is underused. I am not entirely sure why anyone would cast someone as brilliant as Julie Walters and not use her more. Walters is a good sport for anything, so she could’ve been used more prominently, and it is disappointing that other characters were given more to do than her. Domhnall Gleeson continues having a great year, with his performance here as one of the unrequited lovers of Ronan’s characters being a good dip into his versatility, but no one other than Ronan makes even a slight dent in this film, which is disappointing to say the least. However, I have to give (vaguely non-serious) kudos to James DiGiacomo, for actually being one of the best parts of this film somehow.
However, for what Brooklyn lacks for in its cast it makes up for in pure spectacle. It reminds me of classic Hollywood cinema, where New York was given a magical quality, where it was a place of pure wonder and mystery. Director John Crowley does a fantastic job of reconstructing the New York of Billy Wilder, and Brooklyn feels less like a period drama for this generation, but instead a compelling melodrama of a time gone past. Part of this is that Brooklyn never makes the same mistake other period dramas have made, where the film is strangely self-aware of the fact that it is set in a previous era, where the story takes a backseat to the attempts by the filmmakers and writers to ensure that the film is filled with nostalgia and archaic trinkets of fact to emulate the feeling of it being in another era, which can sometimes be dreadfully boring and very misguided. Brooklyn never once plays the card of showing off its historical nostalgia, and instead Crowley strives to tell a timeless love story, which just so happens to be set in the 1950s, which I think makes this film a compelling romantic drama rather than a novelty period film, which was something Ishmael Merchant and James Ivory did very well decades ago, but very few have been able to repeat that success until now.
I feel like Brooklyn is that kind of film that will be entertaining for anyone interested in the subject matter, but will have a lot more impact if it emotionally resonates with an individual. Perhaps a part of why I didn’t love this film as much as I’d like to is because I couldn’t connect with it on a personal level, a common criteria for many films such as this. However, that isn’t to say that it doesn’t resonate with a great deal of people – it is almost certain that many people will connect with this film, and see themselves reflected in the eyes of Eilis Lacey. I suspect anyone who has taken the journey of leaving home to go to an unfamiliar place, meaning a new city, state or country, and leave their pasts behind. It must be a heart-wrenching experience, and an ordeal that I feel many can connect with when they see Eilis going through the same homesickness and longing for the past, while looking towards the future. The film is wonderful at capturing the conflicting emotions of such a life-changing event, but the sense of wonderment at starting a new life, but also the worry and loneliness of leaving the old life behind. Brooklyn is an effective drama in this regard, which is a good aspect of this film, as many films are very unsympathetic to such an experience.
Brooklyn is a lovely film, but it isn’t a film that I could connect with, or feel much for. It is sometimes very bland, and while there are some lovely moments scattered throughout, there are many scenes that could have simply been cut, and this film would’ve been at least a quarter shorter than it ended up being. That isn’t to imply that this film is overlong, but rather, some of the more ineffective scenes could have been left on the cutting room floor to make space for some more character development of the characters played by Julie Walters and Emory Cohen. Brooklyn was not too long, but it did feel somewhat like a chore, as the first act completely drags (never a good sign for a film – one doesn’t want to bore the audience right from the start), with a compelling second act and a passable third act. The pacing was completely off, and it shifted in tone far too many times for my liking. It was a good film, but the fact that it was so uneven, and the fact that even in its most exciting moments, it was still a little bland, makes me wish this film had more to offer the audience than just a good performance by Ronan and a compelling story, which I feel deserved a slightly better film.
I enjoyed Brooklyn. It might not be my favorite film of the year, and it didn’t captivate me all that much, but it was still a sweet little film with a wonderful lead performance from Ronan. I do think other actresses this year (namely Brie Larson and Daisy Ridley) give better performances, I do think Ronan is absolutely wonderful here. The cast is solid, but underused, and the film looks dazzling, and tells a sweet story, but other than that, it isn’t incredibly special. Another viewing might soften me up a bit, but for now, it is a wonderful drama, that could’ve been a brilliant drama, but for now, it will simply have to settle for being a pretty good, but unremarkable film.