Making a move from home by yourself is a daunting task, and one that I took six months ago when I moved from Tennessee to Florida — 13 hours away from comfort. Sure, there isn’t the Atlantic Ocean in between me like there was for Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) in Brooklyn, but that disconnect from everything you grew up knowing can be overbearing and the desire to run back is always in the back of your mind. Brooklyn captures these feelings with a story about growing out of your younger shell and taking the risks to progress in life.
In Brooklyn, Eilis makes the move from Ireland to New York City after her sister corresponded with an Irish priest in Brooklyn, who found a home and job for the young girl. Brooklyn in the 1950s is much different to Eilis than Ireland was, and the strength to overcome obstacles and make her time count is what is most inspiring about the character.
This is a testament to Saoirse Ronan, who allows us into the emotions of Eilis tactfully — only offering facial expression and the bitter fights with her inner feelings to give us insight into the battle raging inside her. Director John Crowley understands that Eilis’ challenge is in adapting to this new world and he allows Ronan to do this with close-up shots on her face, extenuating her expression to evoke every emotion Eilis is feeling.
Life in Brooklyn isn’t bad for long as Eilis meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a young Italian plumber who asks her to dance at one of the local Irish get-togethers. Even then, Eilis is carefully picking what she wants to do or say to Tony, who seems excited enough to rush into any decision that she will allow him to, even though he holds back in the most gentlemanly fashion possible. But life calls her back to Ireland for a month, and she happens upon the recently single Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), who makes her re-think her trip back to the States.
While the script by Nick Hornby is relatively cliche, there is a charm to Brooklyn that is affectious. It doesn’t take too much to get caught up in the romance between Eilis and Tony with Ronan creating a character you can root on for her meticulous choices and admirable demeanor, making her someone who doesn’t take the events of life too softly. She enters a world that is so rushed to get to the next step that it is sometimes hard to stop and remind yourself why you are there in the first place, and that is what Brooklyn does so well.
It understands the trials of young adulthood and the challenges of coming into a new place blind and trying to re-capture perspective. It also is a tale of returning home after this exposure and coming to terms with the life you left behind and whether it is something that can be apart of your future. These choices create the drama of Brooklyn and make the last 30 minutes a tense lesson in sharp writing and character motifs that pay off.
Brooklyn poses the question of whether we are better off staying where we came from or whether spreading our wings and flying is the best way to go. For Eilis, it is realizing that she has found more purpose in Brooklyn, where she has learned a skill and started to develop a community on her own. But her family is at home and the assured promise of a stable life seems appealing as well. Either choice is fine, but one carries more risk and the challenge is deciding if you want to take that chance.
For Eilis, backing down to a challenge has never been a problem and she shows the resiliency to face whatever test comes in front of her, as she displays in her initial journey from Ireland to America.
Crowley creates a story that feels wholly human and relatable, but also dipped in fantasy. The fairy tale-esque feel to Brooklyn comes with its share of realism, but also reminds you of the magic of youth and finding yourself. If anything, it becomes a portal into the past and a charmer that should leave you grinning. Ronan is magical in the lead role that she tailored to fit her skills.
But the emotions of Ronan’s character are real, not because you can see the tears streaking down her face, but because you can see that moment in yourself and remember the journey that led you to this moment and how Eilis still has a ways to go before being complete.