Ir­ish ays

BROOK­LYN, drama, rated PG-13, Vi­o­let Crown, 3.5 chiles

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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

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