The modern movie world is so full of technological trickery that filmmakers can often forget how to properly tell a story. If a narrative is strong enough, it doesn’t require smoke and mirrors to get your attention; great dialogue and actors equal to the words are more than sufficient.
Such is the case with Brooklyn, which is a supremely simple story told to perfection. Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is a young Irish woman who moves to America in the 1950s to try to better her lot in life. Set up in a boarding house with other young women, Eilis attempts to stave off homesickness and find her place in a new land.
But home cannot be forgotten easily, and a return trip to Ireland stirs up feelings she thought she had left behind. Should she stay, go with the familiar, and settle for local boy Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), or choose her own path and return to a new and exciting relationship with Tony (Emory Cohen)?
Based on the novel by Colm Toibin, director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby have turned in a work that’s neither overly subtle nor in-your-face. Rather, it’s a film that’s a constant pleasure from beginning to end, one that’s equally as funny as it is dramatic.
The film contains no big set pieces to allow its actors to showcase their skills. Instead, it’s just a series of intimate moments: dinners at the boarding house, overseen by the feisty Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters); Eilis learning how to do her job at a department store; walking dates with Tony; the reading of letters from back home. But the parts add up to an ultra-compelling whole, each one deepening the story in a way films rarely get to do these days.
Also great is the fact that her romantic entanglements, even for a film set in the 1950s, don’t feel central to the story. They’re merely part and parcel of who Eilis is, not her entire goal in life. Her decision to stay in Ireland or return to America is partly hinged on her feelings for both men, but those feelings are not the entire factor.
Ronan, who earned an Oscar nomination at 13 for 2007’s Atonement, has impressed in virtually everything she’s done, but this might be her best work yet. Her openness and expressiveness lend Eilis a warmth that draws you in, and then her acting ability keeps you spellbound. And even though it really shouldn’t be a factor, Ronan’s natural Irish accent is like honey to the ears; she could be reciting computer jargon and it would still sound beautiful.
Because of its simplicity, there’s a chance many people will let Brooklyn pass them by. Don’t let that happen to you. With superb dialogue and performances, it’s one of the best movies of the year.