It’s difficult to understand why Brooklyn needed to be made. It feels like the kind of story that’s been told thousands of times; a young Irish girl leaves behind her small town life for the big city, and after building a life for herself there returns home and becomes conflicted. Why then make a film of a story that we know almost intrinsically?
The obvious reason would be because it’s based on a novel by acclaimed writer Colm Toibín, who himself would have had personal reasons to write a story about his hometown of Enniscorthy and his own conflicted view of living in such a place. The film undoubtedly captures that difficult dichotomy of growing up in rural Ireland; between enjoying a life away from there, but also being drawn towards the comfort of home.
With this in mind, there’s nothing about Brooklyn that could in any way be considered to be original or cutting edge. The story is rather clunky and formulaic, meaning the overarching feeling is one of its characters being ushered into stereotypical or one-dimensional representations of certain kinds of people. But the combination of Toibín’s psychologically believable characters and the quality of the supporting cast give these characters a life that the film’s structure almost squeezes out.
But despite being largely unoriginal Brooklyn is paced rather well, by dividing its story into three parts, starting and finishing in Enniscorthy, with its middle section taking place in Brooklyn. Saoirse Ronan also manages to keep her performance understated, and to director John Crowley’s credit he does present us with moments of pause that allow us to get closer to the character.
Brooklyn faces the same sorts of problems most films face when adapting novels for the screen. The biggest of these is that the film-makers have little clue on how to adapt the rich inner lives of the characters visually, and so instead they just have the actors going through the basic motions of the story, almost as if they are reading the character’s monologue in their heads. Even if you exclude the amount of stuff film-makers have to exclude for time purposes, these film adaptations always feel like they’re giving you less than half the full story.
For this reason the man Saoirse’s character falls for in Brooklyn feels undercooked, like he should be more than just a good guy, that he should reveal something about himself. But he never does, and so we have to accept characters who we don’t really get to know. But despite its issues, Brooklyn is an adequate adaptation and would make a nice romantic trip to the cinema.
In cinemas 06 November 2015. Watch the trailer here.