In the broadest sense of the analogy, Brooklyn deals with the differences of small-town world and the largest of worlds in New York City. Thrust into a job and adapting to New York life, an Irish Girl who only knows small-town relationships must overcome homesickness to take advantage of what was, at the time, the land of opportunity. Less a romance and more a drama showing the plight of discovering a scary world for the first time, Brooklyn is a wonderful look at becoming an adult in a world that the protagonist doesn’t understand.
Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) lives in Ireland with her sister (Fiona Glascott) and mother (Jane Brennan), but hasn’t had the ability to really break through and find work or a long-term male suitor. Knowing that her abilities exceed this, the church sets her up with an Irish-immigrant pastor living in Brooklyn (Jim Broadbent) who sets her up with a job, bookkeeping classes, and a boarding house run by Julie Walters’s Madge, a comic relief character with some great scenes. In the beginning, she struggles with homesickness, writing home a lot despite the support of her patient boss played by Jessica Pare. Eventually she meets an Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen) who slowly helps her adjust to New York and she falls in love with him, both for his sincerity and unabashed simplicity in loving her. So when tragedy strikes at home, she must go back where all of the opportunities once impossible for her and now handed on a silver platter, including a bookkeeping job and a new man (Domhnall Gleeson), leaving her with the choice of staying home in the small town or heading back to New York to be with Tony.
Although the film is a bit emotionally manipulative, it’s relentlessly adorable in depicting its characters in a pretty honest way. When it’s possible that she stays in Ireland and she’s weighing her options, the director John Crowley creates a world where it feels like the universe is conspiring against her, and it creates this anxiety about which decisions she is going to make in the end. Neither is really poor, but she comes off as so likable that the life decisions she has to make are very powerful.
The film’s tone tends to shift very rapidly, and for once, that is actually acceptable because of all of the new things that Eilis is experiencing. So as she begins to enjoy life in the Big City, we start to as well. Scenes with her housemates and Julie Walters are hysterical, and although the romance is occasionally heavy-handed, we do appreciate how Tony feels about her. The film does slow once she goes back to Ireland, and even though that growth is necessary, there are some pacing problems with this film. It’s not perfect, but as a romance and a drama, it’s very well-executed, and the hype about its quality is pretty warranted.
Saoirse Ronan really is great in this, she portrays her character with a lot of hidden emotions that really work to the film’s benefit. There’s a ton of camera close-ups to her face to show her hidden veil of sadness or confusion. So when it breaks, such as an excellent phone scene, the movie gives off a really big sincerity. It works on almost every level because of her performance, and although its not transcendent or perfect, there isn’t much wrong with it.