The story of young Irish immigrant Eilis Lacey (played by Saiorse Ronan) coming to America in the 1950s, Brooklyn is so carefully crafted and old fashioned that subverts any real drama in favor of a beautiful presentation. Remember that bowl of candy at your grandma’s house? You know the one; it looks delicious but then you go to pick one up and all of the candies are stuck together because they’ve been there for 20 years? That’s kind of like Brooklyn. It’s a lovely looking film and the performance by Ronan is delicate and mannered. The costumes and production design are flawless. It’s just more on the surface than it is underneath.
When Eilis meets this ‘ehhh, ohhh’ Italian-American guy Tony (Emory Cohen), he’s immediately smitten but she’s standoffish and distant. It’s sweet because it’s new ground for Eilis, as is nearly everything she does once in the states. Not terribly original but the two actors do their best to pretend it is. Eilis relents and just as quickly the two are married. Then the movie’s gear shifts up a bit and a family emergency takes her back to Ireland. It’s there that she meets Jim (Domnhall Gleeson) and suddenly she’s torn; does she stay with this new guy and her old life or go back to America to be with her new husband? This central struggle of the film, Eilis’s choice of love and place, should be bigger, more urgent, but it’s not. She barely knows either man (we don’t really know much either, especially of Jim) so the hook isn’t there. It turns what should be a deeply emotional decision for Eilis (and the audience) and reduces it to a coin toss.