Director: John Crowley
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson
Spoilers Within: No
Originally posted 4th April 2016 on Letterboxd.
For all the emotion that actually hit home in the most microcosmic way of being a foreigner in a new country, I foundBrooklyn quite sterilised that not even the great work from Saoirse Ronan and the pleasingly perfect casting of The Place Beyond The Pines‘ Emory Cohen could elevate it to being anything more than a charming but forgettable trans-Atlantic melodrama.
At the beginning of the story Eilis (Ronan) resides in a little Irish town called Enniscorthy with her mother and her sister, working in a job she doesn’t particularly like, hanging with a small group of people she doesn’t much care for and – before the first 10 minutes are through – she’s boarded a ferry bound for Brooklyn, New York. Throughout the entire film, these life-altering decisions are made (mostly) off-screen by external forces i.e. she gets a sponsored job (and night classes for bookkeeping) which she never applied for; falls in love when she’s not expecting to; gets a wedding invitation accepted on her behalf, and so on. All of these choices are out of her control and push her journey forward in a slipshod manner, decreasing her noticeable character arc to essentially a ‘deus ex machina’. Even her biggest decision of all – whether to return to Tony in Brooklyn- is not because she misses him, but rather because of an old meddler’s improbable attempt at blackmail.
Eilis’ willingness to leave her elderly, lonely mother in her quaint hometown town highlighted a particularly selfish streak in her character that didn’t warm to me at all. That – in addition to her oddly filing her husband’s letters in a drawer – just gave her another dimension that wasn’t altogether kind; flawed, yes, but subtly cruel too.
It’s also strange that the secondary love story (starring 2015’s that-guy Domnhall Gleeson) had come into the narrative when it had: at no point did I really see that she was interested in staying with him, and knew that no matter what he would do she’d have left, making her muteness about a husband all that more baffling. It may have been a clicheéd workaround to have him as a childhood friend that returned to her life, but at least that would have established him as a character that could plausibly become another love interest.
It would be an untruth to say that I didn’t sob at Eilis’ response to her sisters’ death and subsequent graveyard visits, but that’s certainly more my own projected feelings toward seeing personal, dual-headstones than a fair judgment on the story. It was an unconquerable problem that Eilis’ decisions were never truly her own, but the time I spent in 1950s Brooklyn – less so 1950s Ireland – was a pleasant visit. Now, let’s have some more Emory Cohen.