“Brooklyn” is a sentimental Irish immigrant melodrama that’s in many ways every bit as generic as its title. A young Irish woman “with nothing FOR me” over there, comes over here.
There’s a weepy mum and sister in Ireland, a kindly helpful priest in America and assorted feisty , slightly-more-experienced fresh immigrants to show her the ropes.
And there is love.
But “Brooklyn” isn’t “Brooklyn Bridge,” or “Avalon” or any of the scores of earlier films and TV shows dating back a century, all covering pretty much the same ground. It is that comfort-food, cliched experience approached with the care one takes with a Jane Austen period piece as filmed by Merchant and Ivory, with a love triangle that pulls its heroine here, and tugs at her to return home.
Saoirse Ronan (“Hannah”), one of the finest actresses of her generation, is Eilis, who leaves the confines of County Wexford, where her job prospects are limited and her marriage prospects more so.
The wealthier lads at “the club” are the prize catches among her peers. But even they have rarely traveled and will never leave.
Her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) has other ideas for Eilis, so off she goes, leaving the class-warped world of her birth for the seasickness of an open ocean passage.
Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), played with the sort of old-fashioned twinkle the movies used to give Catholic priests, is the New York sponsor who brought her in.
“We need more Irish girls in Brooklyn.”
Not that you could tell at the time. A fellow passenger on the boat warned her, “Try to remember that sometimes it’s nice to talk to people who DON’T know your aunties.” So Eilis fights her homesickness, tries to master her department store job and fit in with the young ladies at her boarding house, where the lightly-tyrannical Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) presides.
“A giddy girl is every bit as dangerous as a slothful man!”
Then, Eilis meets a young man, an Italian-American Brooklyn Dodgers fan (Emory Cohen) with a genteel approach to courtship that suits her small town ways. And they lived happily ever after, with no drama and zero conflict, right?
Fortunately, there are complications back home, which animate a movie that could have sat listlessly in the “Isn’t that nice? Here’s one we can take Grandma to over the holidays” shelf.
Director Jim Crowley (“Intermission,” “Boy A”) and screenwriter Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”, “An Education”) play it so safe that you seriously wonder if their ambitions run no further than reaching that “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel/My Big Fat Greek Wedding” audience.
But Crowley wisely keeps Ronan center stage and often in close-up. She lets us feel the pain of leave-takings, the depression of homesickness in that pre-digital age, the dilemma of first love, and maybe second love overlapping, the pull of the familiar vs. the hope of the new and different.
It’s a great performance in a meticulously observed slice of 1950s life in Ireland and New York, the bustle of the city vs. the serene green calm of the country. Surrounded by lovely young support talent and perfectly-cast veterans (like herself) in Walters, Broadbent and Domhnall Gleeson, as a shyly dashing young squire back in Ireland, Ronan gives a stand-out turn in a narrative as familiar as the American experience, a warm and fuzzy postcard from the past to remind us all of how we got here. Even if every so often we forget we all got here, one way or other, by boat.
MPAA Rating: PG – 13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Fiona Glascott
Credits: Directed by Jim Crowley, script by Nick Hornby, based on the Colm Tóibín novel. A Fox Searchlight release.
Running time: 1:51