BROOKLYN, drama, rated PG-13, Violet Crown, 3.5 chiles
There’s an early moment in Brooklyn when Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), the young Irish heroine, stands aboard the ship that will take her to a new life in New York and waves a mournful goodbye to her mother and sister on the shore. The film slows down, reminding us to take in the familiar gravity of the scene, and gradually we notice the two other lasses flanking Eilis, also anxiously waving, also red-haired and similarly bundled in their shabby best. This small scene, like much of this old-fashioned, affecting movie, suggests that the immigrant experience is at once uniquely individual and deeply shared — a lesson that may need repeating in the current climate.
It’s the 1950s in County Wexford, and Eilis’ forward-thinking sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) has arranged for Eilis to go to Brooklyn out of clear-eyed necessity; Eilis can’t find a decent job, and there are few other prospects for her in Ireland. So go to Brooklyn Eilis does, to work in a high-end department store as one of a flood of postwar Irish immigrants to New York. As a more seasoned immigrant cautions her on the boat, “Try to remember to talk to people who don’t know your auntie.”
Despite the advice, Eilis settles into a cloistered new life, living in a boardinghouse teeming with other, brasher young Irishwomen and spending her Friday nights at Father Flood’s dances at the parish hall. She’s introverted and homesick, weeping over her sister’s letters, reacting like a startled deer whenever anyone addresses her directly — until she meets Tony Fiorello (an adorable Emory Cohen), an Italian-American plumber who’s sweet on Irish girls and loves the Brooklyn Dodgers. The romance between Eilis and Tony is both unconventional (the two seem ill-matched at first) and not, as Tony eases Eilis into American culture via Coney Island, movie dates, and those Dodgers — but when Eilis is called back to Ireland, the fate of their union becomes uncertain, especially when a new rival for Eilis’ affections surfaces in the form of the well-heeled Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson).
Such an ordinary plot would be slighter material in other hands, and though Nick Hornby’s screenplay is more sweetly sentimental than the Colm Tóibín novel it’s based on, the film never dips into treacly territory. The reason for that is Ronan, whose steely, undemonstrative performance capably anchors the story. The slightest flicker of her eyelid entrances the viewer, and when she makes her decisions and moves forward, we feel as if we’ve made them right along with her. The result is less a love-triangle romance or an immigrant’s tale of renewal, and more a full-fledged personal flowering. It’s an inspiring memento of what happens when a person realizes just who she is for the very first time. — Molly Boyle
‘Tis you must go and I must bide: Domhnall Gleeson and Saoirse Ronan