The beautiful new movie “Brooklyn” follows an everyday young Irish woman as she immigrates to New York City in search of a better life during the 1950s, settles in the eponymous borough and struggles with the process of acclimating to a new world.
It’s a familiar and universal story rendered in far deeper terms thanks to the essential truth that defines every scene: Immigration is as much a state of mind as a physical experience.
Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis Lacey in filmmaker John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby’s adaptation of the Colm Tóibín novel.
She leaves her mother and sister behind for life in a Brooklyn boarding house run by the kindly Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters), a job at a department store and, eventually, a romance with Tony (Emory Cohen).
The film embeds itself in the stark emotional details of Eilis’ world, as she searches for an identity formed out of the indelible influence of both her homes.
Crowley understands the gift he’s been given in Ronan, who has the classical beauty of Hollywood royalty paired with that most essential of traits for any actor: the ability to vividly communicate complex feelings without saying a word.
So much of the movie unfolds in the silent moments, as Eilis stands at her counter, takes in the scene at a dance, reads letters from the family she left behind or hesitantly begins to fall for Tony.
It is resolutely committed to externalizing Eilis’ interior self, to stressing the extraordinary difficulties of trying to start a new life in an unfamiliar land by letting Ronan do the communicating. In so doing, the film effectively complicates the mythologizing and romanticism so often associated with the American dream, employing a touch that is ceaselessly dramatic even in a film without a single conventional villain.
The filmmaker fills in the blanks behind his remarkable star: the production value, from a scene of crowded Coney Island at the height of summer and packed with beachgoers to the sweeping Irish countryside, is never less than first-rate.
The movie is steadfastly intimate, despite the period scale. The camera never strays too far away from Ronan, who connects this young Irish woman’s faraway journey to all of ours, evoking the trauma, the sadness and the joys of change.