I’ve been seeing a lot of this poster over the past few months. I never saw a trailer, and I never read an advance review or any news about it anywhere, and yet all of my usual theaters had that fucking poster on a wall somewhere. Just a laughably generic title and Saoirse Ronan’s face — that’s all I had to go on, and yet I guess I was somehow supposed to think this was a film worth anticipating. Then the movie came out to near-universal critical praise.
Well, it turns out that the poster was actually a perfect description of Brooklyn — aside from Ronan’s pretty face and the period Brooklyn setting, it has precisely dick to offer.
The plot… well, there is no plot. But the premise concerns Eilis, a young Irish woman played by Saoirse Ronan. She is given the chance to emigrate to America, after her sister secured her a sponsorship from an Irish priest (Father Flood, played by Jim Broadbent) living in Brooklyn. So Eilis arrives with a fine department store job and a comfortable apartment with five pleasant flatmates ready and waiting for her overseas. Then Father Flood arranges for Eilis to go to school and learn how to be an accountant, complete with a full scholarship. What’s more, she proves to be a natural and flies right through all her classes. And while all this is happening, Eilis meets a fine young Italian boy who treats her like a princess and they fall in true love together.
And no, this isn’t the first act. This is the first half of the movie. I hope you’re beginning to see the problem here.
Throughout the entire movie, our main character never has to lift a finger for anything. Everything she could ever want or need is freely given to her with no strings attached, sometimes without her even asking. Everybody loves her and nobody has a single bad thing to say about her. (Except an old bitch named Miss Kelly, played by Brid Brennan, whom nobody likes because she’s an asshole to everyone. And she’s only in the movie for three minutes, if that.) From start to finish — even before the movie’s started! — Eilis never has to make a single decision because every single character goes out of their way to make everything easy for her.
And we’re supposed to sympathize for this girl because she’s shy and she’s homesick and she has a good heart. Sorry, I don’t think so.
Nothing even remotely interesting happens until the hour mark, when a death in the family brings Eislin back to Ireland. Which would suck for anyone, so sympathy for that much. But once Eislin’s back there, she has to choose whether or not to go back to Brooklyn. Which means that she has to choose between the fine job in Ireland that was simply handed to her, and the fine job in Brooklyn that was simply handed to her. She can have the kind and handsome young man in Ireland (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who threw himself at her, or she can have the kind and handsome young man in New York (played by Emory Cohen) who threw himself at her.
Yeah, such a heartbreaking conflict with such monumental stakes. Poor Eilis just has it so hard. Cry me a fucking river.
Look, I get that immigration is a hot-button issue right now. We could absolutely use an uplifting story that celebrates those who came from overseas to make better lives for themselves in America. But this is not that story. Nobody in this movie ever has to overcome any obstacles. No one ever has to deal with bigotry. No one ever fights to be recognized and respected as a fellow American. It’s impossible to take this movie seriously on an intellectual level because the whole movie is blatant Harlequin wish-fulfillment bullshit.
At this point, it should go without saying that the characters are all bland, boring, unremarkable, and only appear just long enough to serve their purpose in the plot. And it certainly doesn’t help that the dialogue is terribly written. I’ve seen shadow puppets with more dimension.
What makes it even worse is that we’ve got some legitimately good actors here who were given awful characters and minimal screen time. Jim Broadbent? Wasted. Julie Walters? Eh. Domhnall Gleeson? Worthless. Emily Bett Rickards… look, I’m way more of a “Flash” fan than an “Arrow” fan, but I’ve still seen enough of Felicity Smoak to know that Rickards is a lovely young talent with great screen presence and wonderful comic timing. Watching her play such a flat and unmemorable character was painful for me.
Also, who’s Emory Cohen? He was the male lead and I still couldn’t pick him out of a lineup if you paid me.
So is there anything good about the movie? Well… at least it looked nice. The camerawork and the visuals may have been pedestrian, but at least it was pleasant to look at. We’ve also got composer Michael Brook to provide an Irish-tinted score, that was alright.
But of course the main attraction here is Saoirse Ronan. I’d gladly call myself a fan of hers and Ronan has absolutely no problem holding the screen. She’s a wonderfully talented actress and she’s doing her best to give Eilis some degree of dimension. But to paraphrase someone far smarter than I am, I don’t judge drama by how hard the actor cries — I judge drama by how hard I cry. And watching Ronan crying on camera, asking me to feel sympathy for a young woman who gets handed everything to her on a plate, made me hate this movie all the more.
Brooklyn is two hours long, and I spent every agonizing second begging and pleading for something to happen. The plot is entirely non-existent, without anything even so basic as a central conflict. The protagonist is as bland and passive as a doormat. A plate of haggis would have more personality than the entire cast of characters put together. There is nothing creative or intelligent in the entire running time. The romance — as with the rest of the story — is so insultingly easy that it’s not worth investing in.
And yet this movie somehow has a 98 percent Tomatometer as of this writing. I can’t begin to imagine why, and I’d encourage you not to believe the hype. Avoid at all costs.