Written by Nick Hornby and directed by John Crowley, “Brooklyn” is adapted from the novel by Colm Tóibín. It’s a sweet coming of age story about a young woman emigrating from a small town in Ireland to Brooklyn, New York. It’s set during the early 1950s and carries itself with a strong feeling of nostalgia and the comfort of distant memory.
Saoirse Ronan (“Hanna”, “Atonement”) plays Ellis Lacey, who with the help of her sister and a priest in Brooklyn, manages to get not only a place to stay in the city, but a job at a fancy department store as well. Soairse Ronan is perfectly cast and her sweetness and sincerity comes across so effortlessly. The story follows her as she finds her way in the city, desperately missing her home and family.
Early on she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), an Italian plumber who takes an immediate liking to her. Much like she is, he’s sweet and kind (though a little on the dumb side). It’s her relationship with him that really starts to bring her around out of her pining for Ireland. The real conflict comes when she returns home after adjusting to living in New York. Even though Ireland has far less to offer, through the lense of her nostalgia she finds a certain peace and familiarity. This is made stronger with Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), who represents what she always imagined as a future for herself in her hometown.
Given that she arrives in the states with not only shelter but a source of income, her immigrant story is far easier than most. The struggles of emigrating are not what this movie is really about, though. What it really comes down to is overcoming her homesickness and finding her way on her own, creating a new life for herself. As we see in Ireland, she grew up in a very small town where everyone knows everyone and it’s still difficult to find work and imagine a bright future. In America, the sky is the limit, as it ever is.
As far as the central narrative goes, “Brooklyn” offers nothing really new or different. There’s something of a love triangle, there’s the pull of being home among the things you grew up with, there are conflicts presented here, but at no point is there ever a challenge to your expectations. It ends much as you probably imagine it would.
That’s not to say that the movie isn’t good, however. It’s very well made and John Crowley gives it just the right touch to allow for the emotions of Ellis to show through. It’s all from her perspective and you immediately latch on to her way of experiencing things. This again plays to the strength of Saoirse Ronan’s performance; she falls so easily into the role of leading lady that any predictability in the story seems less important.
“Brooklyn” is an entertaining and naturally sweet story that’s carried by a well crafted tone and a terrific lead performance. It plays out like a story you might hear from your grandmother, where she reflects on how life once was, filtered through the hazy eyes of nostalgia and memory.