Brooklyn is the story of a young Irish woman named Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) who immigrates to the United States during the early 1950s in search of a better life. Facing many challenges in her new home in Brooklyn, including the heartbreak of leaving her family behind, she forms a relationship with a young working-class Italian man named Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen).
But when personal tragedy strikes, Eilis returns to Ireland, aware that by doing so she may never be able to return to the life she’s begun to build with Tony. Once back in Ireland, Eilis is tempted by new career prospects, as well as a suitor named Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), forcing her to decide where her true home is.
This is an old fasioned movie, the kind Hollywood studios used to call “women’s pictures”, churning them out a dime a dozen. The script is soggy and not particularly exciting, but you can see why critics and discerning audiences have heralded it as a sublime experience in our current era of overblown spectacle and super-hero movies.
What Brooklyn does do well is evoke a sense of being torn between time, place and identity, reflected in Eilis’s clear blue eyes. The performances are great, especially Saoirse Ronan, who has a genuinely compelling screen presence, and the period detail, costumes and cinematography all hit the right notes.
Brooklyn weaves a subtle spell, and despite being a basically clichéd love triangle doesn’t come across as pretentious or insincere. If Nicholas Sparkes wrote it, it would be the best thing he’d ever done. But if this came out during Hollywood’s heyday, it would hardly stand out among the movies of Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who truly knew how to suffer in mink and weep into their lovelorn pillow.
-Written by Matthew Mawkes