Brooklyn

January 19, 2016


John Crowley’s melted cheese direction will bring a smirk to the most hardened of cynics who sit through his adaptation of Colm Tobin’s Brooklyn, which may as well come with the caveat, An American Sceal. A Transatlantic twaddle about a woman torn between her new life and her old, it’s handsomely made and well acted, but so hell bent on tugging at the heart strings of it’s most likely audience- the emigrants resettled around the world, that it has no real soul at all.

A small girl from a small town leaves her lack of options behind her when she sets sail for the Big Apple. Her kindly older sister has set her up with a gaff and a job in a glamorous department store. Eilis has difficulty settling at first, breaking into floods of tears as the letters from home are brought to life via voice-over, during the many, many montages Crowley splices throughout the movie (adapted by Nick Hornby with all the subtlety of an advert for Barry’s Tea). 

But a kindly priest, a glamour-puss boss and the hovel of bitches she shares her Brooklyn brownstone with buck, and scrub her up, so that she eventually draws the attention of a nice Italian lad, who helps her bloom further into womanhood.

So much so, that when bad news brings her back to Enniscorthy, the locals smell the new world wiles off of her and pollinate her mind with the possibility of a life in the home country. 

It’s never dull, and often a hoot, though far too ridiculous to engage on any deeper level. From the moment Crowley reveals his hand, in an unintentionally hilarious send-off at the docks- where he cuts back and forth from the departing emigrants and those left sobbing behind, you know what type of movie he’s making.

He keeps time with the beats of the narrative, you’re attention is held, yet there’s little fine tuning done to find real emotion in this age old, oft told emigration story, that prefers cartoon sentiment to deep feeling.

One of the biggest problems is that everyone else is so much more interesting than Eilis herself.She is sanctified to such a degree that she seems encased in her own grotto. Saoirse Ronan is a serviceable actress and is serviceable here, making clear, concise decisions, subtly layering her character as she progresses through the story.  

But the tweeness of Hornby’s adaptation means that we never get a sense of the woman beneath the knitwear, aside from what others project on her. The result is waning interest whenever we are left alone in her company, or are privy to her dealings with her suitors, who pant her own brilliance back at her throughout their courtship. 

You long for the brilliant supporting cast to return. Julie Walters is a stand out as a kindly, sprightly boarder house owner. While Nora Jane-Noone, Emily Bett Rickards, Eve Macklin and Jenn Murray bring giddy light to her life on the other side of the ocean, as Eilis’s co-habitants.

Jane Brennan -and Fiona Glasgott in particular, are excellent as Eilis’s mother and sister, while Eva Birthistle is terrific as a bridge between the life Eilis was leaving behind and the new world she is heading to.

But Crowley pelts the drama with tropes so that you can never take it seriously. The bathing of her emergence from Eilis Island in blinding light. A Christmas day dinner with emigrant drunks scored by some rousing, tear-inducing sean-nos. And poor old Jim Broadbent, whose lot this year seems to be to fill in the narrative gaps. (See London Spy for more of that).

Eilis’s love interests are feather light, with little done to contrast them beyond a tick list of what makes them suitable spouses, while perhaps more disappointing is how the shock of the new world is never really explored.

But the production values are top notch and the movie never takes itself too seriously to be off-putting, unlike its fifties-fetishising stable mate, Carol. It’s a silly, whimsical, romantic drama, cozy enough for a duvet day, and not taxing at all on your emotions…unless, of course, you’re living far away from and missing the green, green fields of home.

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