Based on the much-loved novel by Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn, spins a tale about culture, migration, and the meaning of home. Directed by John Crowley, known for his extensive work in theatre, the film is a fun, sugary watch - even if on occasion unconvincing.
Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) faces limited opportunities in her small hometown of Enniscorthy in Ireland. There is no work for her, and little chance of her fulfilling her aspiration to become a bookkeeper, like her older sister Rose. Through Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), an acquaintance of the family, she acquires a visa for America in order to widen her prospects. Ronan combines well her character’s wit and can-do attitude with quiet thoughtfulness.
Upon arrival, Eilis suffers from severe homesickness. This is where Brooklyn shines: Eilis’ correspondence with her sister will mist the eyes of anyone who’s moved away from home. Her kindly landlady Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters), Father Flood, and Miss Fortini, her manager at a department store, all try to help, without much success. All of this good intent is comforting to watch, but not particularly realistic - the three yield opportunities and counsel aplenty at Eilis’ every difficulty.
It isn’t until Eilis meets and falls for Tony (Emory Cohen), a plumber with an Italian background, that she begins to enjoy Brooklyn. Cohen is very sweet as Tony, displaying an endearing, puppy-like adoration for our main character. Enrolled on a bookkeeping course, Eilis’ life gradually comes to seem picture perfect.
However, tragedy strikes, and forces her to return to Ireland. Intending at first to only make a brief visit, she finds herself delaying her return, hesitantly settling back into the life of the town. Her friends and family are eager to see her married to Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), who is considered an attractive prospect. Eilis is left with a choice between two marriages and two lifestyles.
Screenwriter Nick Hornby does his best, but it is difficult to completely sympathise with Eilis as she wavers. It seems clear-cut that Tony and her life in Brooklyn were an improvement on her previous circumstances. While her homesickness is persuasive when she first arrives in America, her longing to stay isn’t quite as convincing. It doesn’t help that Gleeson isn’t given many scenes, and so comes across as aloof - and thus not a realistic rival to his American counterpart.
It is also frustrating that the choice between these two lives is represented by two men – and that Eilis attributes the cure of her homesickness directly to her love interest. It makes for pleasing romantic drama, but isn’t empowering.
What the story does capture well, however, is Eilis’ transformation. When she returns to Ireland, Ronan shows her as confident and assertive, with a touch of glamour. The costume design by Odile Dicks-Mireaux works brilliantly towards marking this evolution.
Although at moments unpersuasive, Brooklyn is a sweet and enjoyable fairy-tale about the meaning of home and the travails of starting anew.