Although it takes place in the 1950s, Brooklyn is as timely a movie as there can be. With the current controversy and debate over immigration, it reminds us not only of a time when people from another country were welcomed to our shores, but also the reasons they might want to come in the first place. It’s also rather appropriate for Thanksgiving. As many people will tell you, “we” were once immigrants/refugees into this great land.
Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) has no life or death circumstance leading her to America. She’s not in danger; she’s not persecuted; it’s not a time of war. She simply feels like there’s no role for her as part of her small village in Ireland. She comes to the United States like many people did/do: for opportunity. Since she has a sister to stay and care for their mother as she grows old, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) arranges her passage on a ship across the ocean.
Through Eilis, we experience what it must feel like for a young woman to take a journey so far from home. Living in Brooklyn at a boarding house with several other girls and working at a local department store, she goes through a period of intense homesickness. Father Flood arranges for her to take night classes, which help her make the transition. However, it’s not until she meets Tony (Emory Cohen) at a church dance that she begins to truly appreciate her new home.
He’s an Italian boy who crashed the dance because he likes Irish women. At first, we think that’s not a good sign; we fear he’s only going to lead her to heartbreak. However, it turns out he’s a genuinely good guy and as Eilis comes to life, so does the movie. However, when there’s a family tragedy at home, Eilis returns and realizes there’s more for her in Ireland than she remembered. It soon becomes a real possibility that she’ll stay, leaving her love in Brooklyn.
Is Tony her true love, though? Or did he arrive just in the nick of time to rescue her from despair? He’s honest and hardworking, but not the sharpest tool in the shed. Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), on the other hand, is a catch back in Ireland, set to inherit his parents’ estate when they move away. The more time she spends with Jim, the more frequently she ignores Tony’s letters. And when she’s sucked into a part-time job in town, her visit extends longer and longer.
This may sound a little soapy, but it’s not. The story is treated with sincerity and thought, not dramatics and show. Its power slips up on you, causing surprising emotion by the end. Written by Nick Hornby (About a Boy) and based on the novel by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn is directed by John Crowley (Closed Circuit) and will likely become more popular as awards season approaches. Expect particularly to see Ronan’s name on many lists.