Saoirse Ronan stars as a young Irish woman sent to America to find a better life
Anyone of a sensitive disposition may wish to bring several boxes of tissues when they see Brooklyn, and possibly a friendly shoulder to snot all over. If you don’t cry at least a little bit at this then the chances are you have either very recently died and failed to notice, or you’re a psychopath and should surrender yourself to the nearest correctional facility.
It’s the 1950s and Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is living, reasonably contentedly, in a small Irish town. There’s not much there but what is there is fine. However, her mother thinks Eilis could be something more and packs her off to Brooklyn, to find a better life in America along with countless other immigrants. After initially struggling, Eilis begins to form a life in New York, with a decent job and a nice boyfriend (Emory Cohen). Then circumstances pull her back to her hometown, driving Eilis to question just where her future lies.
Nick Hornby has written a beautiful script, full of great big emotional moments that are earned through proper character development rather than demanded. It’s not all hammering at your heart; much of it is hugely funny, particularly scenes with Julie Walters as the stern head of the boarding house where Eilis lives. It’s not a script that strains to make you cry but makes you like its characters so much that when bad, or great, things happen to them you can’t help it.
As much as Hornby has scripted gorgeously and John Crowley (Boy A, True Detective) is an elegant director, the film belongs to Ronan. After years as the best child actor going, with an Oscar-nominated turn in Atonement and equally impressive parts in Hanna and The Lovely Bones, Ronan glides into her first proper adult role. There’s a lot of tricky stuff to pull off in Eilis, who makes some choices that could be viewed as cruel and unsympathetic, but Ronan makes them human. It’s the mark of a well-written and well-played character that when the credits roll you feel like you’ve been living with them for not a couple of hours but several years.