Anchored by a tremendous lead performance from Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn is an intimate, sincere drama that manages to dodge the cliches of many immigrant stories and completely avoid cynicism. It's a very simple story of a woman torn between two worlds, but with lush cinematography, terrific production design, and impeccable acting, Brooklyn transports you to a time and place in which, for a couple of hours, nothing matters more than the happiness of its main character.
Director: John Crowley
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson
The young Eilis Lacey (Ronan) has no prospects in 1950s Ireland, so her mother and sister arrange for her to emigrate to New York through a stateside priest who once lived in their small town (Jim Broadbent). Eilis leaves behind everything she knows and starts fresh in Brooklyn, where a job as a cashier at a department store, enrollment in night classes, and a room at a boarding house are waiting for her. She's homesick and miserable until she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a sweet Italian-American goofball plumber who slowly starts to make her feel like she has her own life in the States. But when she heads back to Ireland to visit her family, she finds her circumstances have drastically changed: she's easily able to find temporary work doing what she loves (accounting) during her month-long stay, which would result in full-time position if she decides to take it. More notably, though, her best friend — unaware of her relationship with Tony — sets her up with the eligible Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), creating the central conflict of the film. Does Eilis return to her new life in America, or does she embrace her past and stay in Ireland?
Gleeson, who's always great, keeps his hot streak alive here playing a nice guy with a hint of sadness behind his eyes, a man with the rest of his life all laid out in front of him. Cohen is great as the easygoing and charmingly nerdy Italian-American, representing to Eilis an unknown, exciting future. On paper, it sounds like a standard love triangle full of stereotypes, but the film does an excellent job showing how both of Eilis's possible paths could be great for her, taking care to make Gleeson's higher class suitor feel like just as valid an option as her New York romance. The supporting cast is strong as well, with Julie Walters delivering some of the movie's best lines as a stern but lovable landlady holding court over her gossipy tenants and Tony's outspoken little brother getting tons of laughs in my screening.
Ronan is magnificent as Eilis, bringing a wonderful combination of tenderness and bravery to her character. Her expressive eyes convey an entire world of emotions happening behind them, and the film excels at putting us in her shoes and making us truly feel for her at all times. When she makes her final decision, it results in the sort of cathartic rush you don't often see in modern movies. While most films would have thrown in a B plot to complicate the narrative, this one thankfully knows that the only thing that matters here the heart of its lead, and by the end you get the sense she's fully completed the transition from a teenager into a woman. A story about growing up, moving on, and choosing your path in life, Brooklyn is a warm, relatable, emotional tale that explores the true meaning of home.