Saoirse Ronan does little to elevate this dull, characterless and painfully sentimental Irish/American drama.
It was decreed by someone, somewhere in Hollywood approximately 10 years ago that Saoirse Ronan was “great”. “Just great”. “The best”. The Irish actress has been getting rolls in projects way above her level of talent (see The Grand Budapest Hotel, Hanna) ever since, and has rarely motivated more than a simple shrug with her combination of Gentle Irish Voice and Gentle Irish Smile. As an Irishman awake to the absurd version of Ireland that is propagated internationally, Ronan’s success has befuddled and at times offended me, but never more than when watching John Crowley’s Brooklyn, a staggeringly mundane immigration drama that has been welcomed with praise, adoration and a 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Adapted from Colm Tóibín’s novel by the reliably talentless Nick Hornby, Brooklyn charts a Gentle Irish Girl’s arrival in New York in the 1950s as she gets a job, meets a Nice Young Man and is faced with crippling homesickness. The Ireland shown in the opening act outdoes The Quiet Man in cliché and tourist-baiting fraudulence. What we see of New York (and we see very little) is equally derivative and unimaginative. Ronan’s character is never given any character whatsoever, interacting on the basest level with dull family and friends, and one is given very little reason (other than, supposedly, her Irishness and Ronan’s “inherent charm”) to sympathise with her upon her arrival in Brooklyn rather than, say, her cruelly cynical but nonetheless conversational American housemates (depicted as “cruel bullies”: yet another of the film’s laughably dated pigeon-holes. Her second-act romance is carried entirely by the relatively charismatic Emory Cohen, whose love she later doubts when faced with the prospect of marrying the one man on earth less interesting than herself (played by an uncharacteristically poor Domhnall Gleeson).
Crowley directs like a man who’s rushing for a bus (likely taking him to the set of True Detective Season 2, which the director helmed two episodes of): there is nothing of any visual interest on display. Meanwhile, where there is potential for a beautiful score to embellish the film’s lesser elements, Michael Brook provides a flat drone of what sounds like the most simple American interpretation of “Irish trad”.
Brooklyn is a perfectly fine Fáilte Ireland commercial, showing the distinct differences between our Land of Emerald and the USA. Though i’m certain there are those who do, I don’t go to the cinema to watch sentimental, stiff TV ads. I go to watch films.