One problem with taking love to the streets of New York in contemporary years is both the Woody Allen effect and the Beastie Boys influence. How can we experience passion in the boroughs of the Big Apple when Allen has just about covered every period, class, style and performance one city could offer? There is of course the issue No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn presents also, and that most modern films will either have to include it, reference it, or acknowledge it as one of the finest tracks of our time. The alternate, then? Why, a period piece, of course. That is what Brooklyn is, and despite its American setting, the film is composed almost entirely of those who are not American.
With Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson and Emory Cohen starring in this 50s-set love triangle, there is a sense that this story could have been set anywhere. Irish Catholics gather around their family. They are deeply religious, but their religion brings profit too. Their store is positioned close to the Church, and Sunday provides them not just their rush hour, but with the ability to give Ellis Lacey (Ronan) the chance to escape. Immediately setting up a not-so-incredible life in Enniscorthy, any way Lacey can escape is a real blessing. Love triangles are not dependent on their location, though. You could set one in Birmingham and get much the same reaction, just a change of accent and sightseeing. For Brooklyn, though, it does depend somewhat on the traditions of the time and why breaking away to New York offers the chance for independent freedoms unavailable in the tightly-wound simplicity of County Wexford.
Its utilisation of Irish immigration to America is historically sound and interesting enough, but it is presented with a tongue-in-cheek view and an odd sense of comedy. John Crowley’s direction is amicable and presents the Irish immigrant life with ease. There is a bond and camaraderie between the immigrants that sets the story off, and although these moments are brief and of relatively inconsequential note, it is nice to see the detail there. There are sloppy moments. Lacey stepping through the door to the United States symbolised as a literal white light as if she is to step into some bright future. It is on the nose sentimentalism such as this that drags Brooklyn down. Still, this sloppiness is short-lived, and some lovely performances from the ever-marvellous Julie Walters and stalwart supporting champion Jim Broadbent make for reliable people in all the right places.
Brooklyn is light and polite, and that is good enough for me. It does not claw at its symbolism and it does not tear down any of the wondrous world it crafts. The story of Irish immigration to America is one worth telling and exploring, and it is nice to see Brooklyn tries to do so. Some of it is weak, but it is a film well worth witnessing, in part because of its cast, but mainly due to its story and its infrequently strong writing. The sense of abandonment and isolation when moving to a new country is scary indeed. It instils within it a desire to return to your roots. It is not through love that this is achieved, but the fear of isolation and the promise of a new beginning in some far-off land. What would we do if that were the finer option to living, breathing and dying just a few miles from where we were born? What would the point of that be? I almost envy Lacey.