This Oscar season, there was one film that slipped past many people. While everyone was rushing to see films like The Revenant and Room, Brooklyn didn’t seem to get a huge audience. And if it did, people weren’t talking about it. Popular YouTube channel Screen Junkies summed it up when they created one of their ‘Honest Trailers’ for this year’s Oscar season – when after failing to describe the plot of the film, they said “I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen Brooklyn and neither have you. I hear it’s great though.” So, is it great? And is it deserving of all the award nominations it received?
Out now on DVD & Blu-ray, Brooklyn follows a young Irish girl named Eilis (an Oscar-nominated Saoirse Ronan). Living in Enniscorthy, a small town in southeast Ireland, Eilis longs for something more. After her sister arranges for her to go to the US and find a better future, she leaves her home to begin a new life in Brooklyn. Although homesick and shy to begin with, she slowly finds herself and, of course, falls in love. Everything seems wonderful and happy and her boyfriend Tony (Emory Cohen) is the nicest bloke you could ever imagine. It seems like the ‘better future’ she was searching for is right here. But when disaster strikes at home, Eilis must return to Ireland. Oh no, what’s this? There’s a nice young man waiting for her at home? Is she going to fall in love with him too? Which man is she going to choose? Oh my goodness, this is exciting…
No, it isn’t. First of all, I want to make it clear that I really liked Brooklyn. It was a beautiful hark back to old, simple cinema. The pacing was wonderful in its steadiness, the set and costume design was gorgeous and the acting across the board was sublime. And we will talk about that later. But first, I have a large gripe with the narrative. Now I know this issue sits with the source material, Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name, but I still feel it should be discussed. Eilis’ return to Ireland is an important part of her character development and I like the idea of her settling back into home and caring for her mother again – but it’s the hints of a new blossoming romance that don’t sit right with this reviewer. It felt uncomfortably out of character for our heroine, after she seemed so in love with Tony before she left Brooklyn. While these love triangle plots are right at home in an Austen novel, it seemed crowbarred into the wrong film here. It’s almost as if she completely forgets her Brooklyn life when she arrives home in Ireland, which doesn’t seem like the sort of thing she’d do after we’ve watched her build that life there for over an hour. I don’t know if this section of the story is written better in the novel than it is filmed here, but it certainly didn’t work for me on screen. Not at all. But despite these shortcomings, the narrative’s simplicity was otherwise very charming.
On the whole, Brooklyn was a stunning piece of cinema. While Saoirse Ronan didn’t stand a chance at beating the incredible Brie Larson for her work in Room, her Oscar nomination is certainly well-deserved. And maybe if not for Larson, she would’ve walked away with it. But awards aside, Ronan puts in the finest performance of her career so far and one of the best of 2015. Special mention should also go to Emory Cohen who lends a gentle vulnerability to Tony, an Italian-American who would usually be portrayed as a greased-up tough guy in these 50s-set films. Supporting work from Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters is superb, the latter of which is surprisingly getting a TV spin-off for her character. Domnhall Gleeson appears to be on auto-pilot here but he’s probably exhausted from a heavy year that put him in Ex_Machina, The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Production-wise, Brooklyn is an absolute feast. Visuals are gorgeous throughout and the era-authentic settings and costumes make the film feel like it was shot in the 1950s. I’ve never been so effectively transported to a time and place than I was with Brooklyn, and that alone is worthy of the highest praise.
Brooklyn is a stunning film that is certainly deserving of the praise and award nominations. In a year with less competition, it would’ve almost certainly walked away with more trophies than it did – but unfortunately for it, this has been one of the strongest award seasons in years.
Brooklyn’s positives vastly outweigh the narrative negative. 4/5.
Brooklyn at CeX
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