I’d like to say that I saved the best for last, but no, Brooklyn is not the best of the eight Best Picture Oscar nominees this year. It’s a solid movie, though in my opinion also the weakest of the lot. It is, in fact, the only nominee I didn’t genuinely love.
Adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel of the same name by none other than Nick Hornby and directed by John Crowley, Brooklyn is a period drama-romance set in the 1950s. It tells the story of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish woman who leaves home for the United States (guess which area?) for a job and prospects of a better life. I don’t want to give too much away — I had no idea where the story was heading and probably liked the movie more because of it — except to say that of course she meets a nice young fellow (Emory Cohen), resulting in some classic romance but also plenty of heartache as Eilis finds herself forced to make some difficult choices.
Brooklyn is without a doubt exquisitely made, capturing the look and feel of the era and infusing the narrative with a good dose of nostalgia. It was a more innocent and optimistic time back then, and Crowley does a fine job of developing the young romance in a sweet albeit slightly romanticised way.
Saoirse Ronan delivers a wonderful performance that’s as good as any of the other Best Actress nominees this year (I’d probably still give it to Brie Larson or Charlotte Rampling though), and it’s a delight to hear her speak in her natural accent for once. She was almost good enough to make me forget she was in The Host, one of the biggest atrocities to hit the screen in 2013.
The rest of the cast is solid too, with Emory Cohen showing off enough charm to make us believe in the courtship and the ubiquitous Domhnall Gleeson delivering yet another strong, understated performance. Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent — it’s a classy ensemble with no weak links.
Thanks to the script, direction and acting, the central romance works in an awkward and cute way, and not without a touch of humour. I started to like the film, and, as expected, something happens to change its trajectory. I even enjoyed this change of pace and how the plot continues to develop — until a deflating and thoroughly unsatisfying final act that totally ruined it for me. It made me realise that I actually didn’t like the protagonist and I didn’t want to root for her after all.
That shouldn’t take away from all the good Brooklyn delivers, though when a film leaves a bad aftertaste that’s the thing you remember the most. However, even if you discount the disappointing third act, I thought the film would have had more of an impact on me with its depiction of that feeling of fear, uncertainty and homesickness that comes with moving to a foreign land, especially since I had experienced something similar. Not to say there weren’t moments that tugged my heartstrings, though pound for pound, Carol, another period romance-drama fueled by phenomenal performances, was the superior experience for me (that said, neither makes my personal Best Picture list).
It’s always easier to be critical of an acclaimed film because of heightened expectations, and Brooklyn is no different. While I appreciate the quality of the production and the performances, I personally feel there are more deserving films that could have replaced it in the Best Picture category. At the end of the day, Brooklyn is still a fine film, an lovely motion picture with some touching moments, just not one of the top eight of the year.
3.5 stars out of 5