Brooklyn (2015) – Review

“BROOKLYN”

This is one I have had on my review schedule for quite a while, mainly because this film has had serious Oscar buzz since the middle of year. Granted it’s probably because at that point the critics hadn’t really seem many other films to really compare it to that will likely gain Oscar nominations, but it still managed to maintain it up to the point of writing this review and a lot of the prediction sites I use are often fairly accurate, with a couple of exceptions that often surprise people. If there was one reason to really go and see this film, it’s Nick Hornby, who has turned from novelist to screenwriter. You may recognise his novels that have been adapted, such as High Fidelity and About a Boy which he also wrote the screenplay for. In terms of his screenplay writing however, you may not have seen too many of them although if you went to the cinema earlier this year you probably saw Reece Witherspoon’s ‘Wild’ which he wrote. This is another adaptation of Colm Toibyn’s Novel, though I haven’t actually read the novel in this case before seeing the film, so I don’t know how faithful an adaptation this is, so I am going to be judging the film on its own merits on that basis. If you have read the book and have now seen the film, please let me know how faithful it is. I would like to know if it is close to the original book and I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing the comparison between the two mediums. I should also say at this point that if you have a slight interest in seeing this film I would suggest you see the film before reading this review as while I don’t explicitly spoil the films plot I do slightly imply a few things.

Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis (played by Saoirse Ronan) who leaves her family in Ireland to travel to New York and start a new life for herself. Whilst out there she falls in love with Tony (played by Emory Cohen) and they form a very strong relationship which fuels her surge and gets her life in order, however, just as all is coming together she gets some troubling news from her home town and must travel temporarily back to Ireland. However, whilst there, she is charmed by Jim Farrell (played by Domhnall Gleeson) and she now must make the difficult decision of whether she wants to live in Ireland or in New York. Wow, that is probably the easiest plot synopsis I have had to do all year. This is a very basic story that is hardly that original, it’s mainly a romance story mixed with a immigrant coming to America story. Both of which we have seen done several times and there’s not too much separating it apart from those sort of stories. You can definitely tie this back to a few other films that it’s like. However, I do think Brooklyn has some identity to it, mainly in it’s cast of characters, more specifically the Brooklyn cast of characters. I enjoyed most of the characters, but I felt the ones set in the Brooklyn portion of the film were slightly superior to the ones set in the Irish portion of the film and I think it’s because that’s the point of the film that kind of lost me.

Brooklyn has a very strong first half. It starts out well and keeps up the good pace and it does a very successful job of making Ireland and New York look like two separate worlds rather than two separate countries and I will go into further detail about that when I talk about the film’s cinematography which demonstrates this brilliantly. The film definitely gives a sense that Eillis feels like an Irish girl that is completely out of her depth and she associates herself more with Ireland than she does with New York. However, we see her progression slowly but surely as she comes round to the New York way of life, mainly thanks to the friends and loved ones she makes in New York and the first half of this film feels really charming as a result and I was really in to it. True, I have seen this story done quite a few times, however it doesn’t change the fact that this portion of the film is very well written and directed. Then the second half happened! Now the second half of this film is where most of my problems came with this film and it’s the one thing that stops me from saying this is a great movie, I can only say it’s a relatively good movie. The second half deals with Eillis’s return back home for a month, after the dreadful turn of events in the middle portion of the film, so she must return back to Ireland and whilst there, attend a friend’s wedding. The trailers act like she is going to have another romance with the character of Jim Farrell and it’s going to be a hard choice between staying in Ireland or whether to go back to Brooklyn with Tony, who she has fallen in love with whilst out there. However, the film never feels like it’s a hard choice. It more feels like the people in Ireland are trying to force her to stay there almost against her will. It never feels much like there is a choice in the matter especially considering that Tony and Eillis get married before she leaves to go back to Ireland which felt like a massive mistake because, one, it makes the impossible decision to stay in Ireland a complete misnomer and if she had decided she would have come across as a callous bitch. This could have worked if the second romance of the film was done as well as the first one. Tony and Eillis’s relationship is built up over time, we get a sense of why she is attracted to him and the connection that she feels with him, despite the fact that they are from very different cultures. They meet in an Irish bar and he is actually Italian, which as you guess, basically means that Tony is a New York/Italian stereotype. However, he is at least done relatively well and it’s never too distracting. But, the second romance doesn’t even feel like a romance. No offence to Domhnall Gleeson who is an excellent actor and is another of those named actors who I will go and see any film that he is in, but the writing really fails him. Jim is a really bland character, there is not really much to him, if anything he feels more like a plot device than an actual character to actively increase the amount of things we can do in the Irish portion of the film, there’s just not too much to him. We never find out too much about him. There is no real connection between the two, everything just feels forced in this portion. If anything I think you could have possibly eliminated him and it wouldn’t have made too much of a difference. You could have had it that Eillis feels the need to stay in Ireland to be with her family, is she makes that choice it would have at least made sense. There is nothing to suggest that this romance would have worked, but it really suffers in the final portions of the film. I won’t give away the ending, but she does make a decision and it does feel like the right decision by the end of the Movie, but there also feels by the end that there really should’t be much of a question in the matter.

What really make this film good though is the strength of its main character Eillis. The strong cast made up of mostly Irish and British actors really does sell the film, but Eillis is a very likeable protagonist and I think a lot of us would see a lot of ourselves in her. She really sells the ‘fish out of water’ angle and I really enjoyed following her story. It would have been easy to make her a whiney, narcissus, saying ‘why always, me, why do I have to chose, don’t make me choose’ which I have seen so many times in these sort of films, by the way writers “stop it immediately, it’s really annoying’. But this film makes her a strong likeable protagonist who only becomes independent by the end of the film having to work her way towards it. The Brooklyn cast are also made up of very likeable characters. I have never been to New York, but it’s another film that makes me think that I probably should go there at some point because they really make it look cool and the period piece feels very accurate, there aren’t a lot of people talking in modern slang, these do feel like characters from the 50’s. I do suspect a lot was actually cut from the novel because as with any adaptation from a novel to a film has to make some changes, in fact there is a guy on Channel Awesome called The Dom who does a show called ‘lost in adaptation’ who points out all the consistencies and changes in book to film adaptations, which is a series that I would highly recommend and I am probably going to request him to do a video on this so I know exactly where my criticisms are justified or not in terms of this film being an adaptation. However, It doesn’t change the fact that the story just left me feeling cold by the end and it was such a shame as the first half was very strong. I think I’m probably not the target audience for this film, for this kind of story, but I have been going out of my way to really see films that I am not the target audience for this year, and all those stories were more endearing to me than this one was. That’s not to say it was bad, I kind of liked this film overall, but I think, with a few more tweaks, this could have been a ‘near brilliant plot’. I know its second half needed to go to Ireland, there had to be this choice of whether she stayed in Ireland or went back to New York, but it never felt like there was too much of a conflict in the end, plus the Irish characters feel very callous and self absorbed as if they want to force her to stay there. I felt like shouting at the screen “shut up, let her make her own decisions”.

As for the cast, this film is an excellent cast. Saoirse Ronan probably gives the best performance of her career and probably will gain an Oscar nomination on the back of this, I would not object to her gaining that Oscar nomination, though I would safely say that my front runner at the minute for Best Actress is Carrie Mulligan in Suffragette. The Brooklyn cast members are pretty good, especially actresses like Eve Macklin, Norah-Jane Noone and especially Jim Broadbent who delivers an excellent performance even though he isn’t given that much to do, but by far my favourite performance in the film was Julie Walters in an absolute scene steeling performance as the lodger Mrs Kehoe. Fans of Sky 1’s Arrow, will be happy to see Emily Bett Rickards who plays Felicity in this film, seriously, it took me a while to spot her, I had to do a bit of a double take, she does well in the role of Patty, but again she is kind of just a supporting player in this one and when you realize it’s her you also realize her Irish Accent isn’t great though I suspect her character has been in New York longer and picked up an accent. Emory Cohen does an excellent job in his role and works well with the Italian/American cast members who make up his family. The problem is with the Irish cast, which is kind of surprising considering this is an Irish Film Board production. None of them are doing bad jobs, especially actresses like Maeve McGrath and Emma Lowe, but they are just not given good writing, which is a shame because they do deliver some interesting roles. The worst of these was Brid Brennan who is a decent actress I have seen in previous works, but is failed most by the writing, she only turns up a couple of times in the film and her scenes serve very little purpose, she is not really a character she is more of a plot device and the shame of it all is Domhnall Gleeson who is the biggest victim of the poor writing, despite the fact that he is playing his role very well, it’s a shame, he can’t do anything with this bland character. Once again, if you end up reading this Domhnall, this is nothing against you, I really like you as an actor.

If there is one thing to praise Brooklyn with, it’s the Soundtrack. As you would expect, there are a lot of Irish songs on this and the soundtrack feels very, very Irish. It actually kind of reminded me initially of the soundtrack of ‘Song of The Sea’, however, that film had a lot better soundtrack I would safely say and I think that is going to please the fans of animation. That’s not to say the soundtrack is weak. There are some very strong pieces in there and the score is also very well done. The cinematography is also excellent. The cinematography style does have some very slight but noticeable changes when scenes are shot both in Ireland and New York and the cinematography is so excellent it gives off the impression that these two locations feel like very different worlds. Ireland is made to feel wholesome, but backwards, whereas New York is meant to feel for the time modern, but very anonymous with a subtle charm to it, and the film does manage to get its period piece down very well, there is a sense of authenticity and it does feel like the story does take place in the 1950’s. If there is one thing to be said about the cinematography, I felt Ireland does feel like it was shot way too dark and I think they could have got some sunshine and bright colours in there. I have been to Ireland, it’s a very nice country when the weather is good and they have some very beautiful locations, I think they should have done more with it. I think “Song of The Sea” and “The Secret of Kells” both got down the beauty of Ireland with its animation style, but that’s probably a very unfair comparison.

Brooklyn is a very interesting film, I nearly said it was a great film, up until it’s second half which is where the film lost me. I know a lot of people are going to love this movie and will be really happy if it gets a best picture nomination at the Oscars, but I am not going to be one of them. Honestly, by the end of the film I was kind of annoyed that this is probably going to get a nomination where ‘Straight Out of Compton’ isn’t. That being said, this film does have some excellent performances, especially the standouts like Saoirse Ronan, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters and Emory Cohen, and the cinematography is excellent, but I just would have liked the second half to have been a bit better. If just left me feeling cold at the end. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend this film, especially to older audiences and I think this film will gain a bit of a following, but I would wait for this one to come out on DVD.

So what were your thoughts on Brooklyn? Did you go and see it and where your thoughts the same as mine? Please leave something in the comments section or send it to my Twitter account under the hashtag Axia Film Society.

Song of the Sea is coming out soon on DVD and Blu Ray and I would really recommend picking it up when it is available because I think it is an awesome movie and really should be Ireland’s new calling for Irish Cinema and when you do and finish watching it you can check out my review again and leave a comment.

Which brings me on to my question today, bit of a harder one, but I thought I would go with it anyway:

“What is your favourite Irish Film”?

I will include any film that has been written or directed by someone from Ireland.

Now it’s time to move one. On November 20 I am reviewing another film that is likely to receive some Oscar nominations for best picture, the bio-pic of “Steve Jobs”.

Thanks for reading my review, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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