This is a period piece, taking place in Ireland and New York (well, filmed in Vancouver for financial reasons), in 1951. Ellias Lacey (in what will be an Oscar nominated performance by the young Saoirse Ronan), leaves her mom and sister to live in Brooklyn. She gets a job and enrolled in school, with the help of the avuncular priest (Jim Broadbent) looking after her. The first flaw with this movie was the boarding house she lived in. It’s run by a rather conservative woman (Julie Walters), and the other ladies are so gossipy and silly, it felt like a bad sitcom. That’s a shame, because so much of the movie is shot beautifully. And it’s a shame to waste such expressive facial expressions by Ronan, on a weak script (also surprising, considering one of the best writers around — Nick Hornby — adapted the best-selling novel).
When Lacey deals with being homesick, you can’t help but cry. When you hear the letters the sisters send back and forth — more tears. The movie takes a good 30 minutes getting to a point of you being interested in any of these characters, though.
Watching Lacey work a job she doesn’t like, for a boss she doesn’t like, dealing with customers that she has a problem relating to. It makes you wonder just how hard immigrants must have had it back in days where you couldn’t just call somebody on a cell phone or Skype.
And just when we think she’ll never find a man, along comes a guy that reminds you of a young (and less confident) Marlon Brando. Tony (Emory Cohen) is from an Italian family, and he soon wins her heart. In a smart move by the director, it isn’t love at first sight. In fact, the audience may wonder if this is just a convenient relationship. It’s the first suitor she has, and she’s enjoying the attention. Later in the movie when another man shows up (Domhnall Gleeson), it’s an opportunity for the plot to thicken. Yet it’s all so poorly done with that character, you’ll end up wishing a different actor was cast; or maybe just better lines given to Gleeson.
It also seems the filmmakers went for a Leave it to Beaver vibe that didn’t jibe with me. For example, the Italian family welcomes an Irish girl into their home. There were also many scenes with African-Americans walking around, all dressed up and going to their jobs. Was this really what it was like in 1952? Also, the plumber talks a great game about how gross his job is, but he always looks impeccable, even when he comes from a flooding apartment.
There were a few enjoyable things about this movie. You like spending time with Lacey, and watching her go from a naïve young lady to a smart woman that actually has a few choices in life. It’s a perfectly believable transition, and the close-ups of her face were perfect. It’s brilliant acting when subtle facial expressions can convey so much. It’s also the type of old-fashioned storytelling I’d like to see more of. Great costume designs, handsomely shot.
The movie just lacked drama, and the third act completely loses me. Lacey has a choice — she can stay in her homeland, with a mom that is getting increasingly annoying and a suitor so bland we wonder why she’d spend a second with him…or she can go back to America with a good looking Italian man that has a promising career and relatively nice family.
This gets 2 1/2 stars out of 5, and it’s a safe bet that women will like this movie a lot more than the men. It’s a shame this wasn’t more insightful.