Brooklyn is a crowd-pleaser, an irresistible story fulfilled by director John Crowley, screenwriter Nick Hornby (who adapted the best-selling novel by Colm Tóibín), and their radiant star, Saoirse Ronan. Only a misanthrope could fail to empathize with Ronan as an Irish girl who leaves her close-knit village to embark on a great adventure: emigrating to America in the early 1950s. A kindly priest (Jim Broadbent) has promised to look out for her as the sheltered young woman learns about life in the big city.
Ronan’s Ellis Lacey isn’t ignorant or foolish, just unworldly. We relate to her at every turn of the story, from living in a boardinghouse filled with gossipy single women—and run by the hilarious Julie Walters—to learning the ropes as a salesgirl in a posh department store where her frozen-faced frown is discouraged. Gradually, Ellis comes out of herself, especially when she meets a gregarious Brooklyn lad (Emory Cohen) who falls in love with her at first sight. A plain-spoken Italian-American, he lifts her spirits and makes her feel at home for the first time.
Circumstances oblige her to return to Ireland for a brief visit and here, too, we can understand Ellis’ conflicted feelings as she is welcomed back to her village and gets to know a handsome fellow (Domhnall Gleeson) who takes a shine to her.
The period flavor in Brooklyn is nicely delineated but never ostentatious. The costumes, sets, and locations have an organic feel to them that suits Ronan’s beautifully understated performance. It’s especially satisfying to see this gifted actress take a breather from heavy, angst-ridden drama, which has been her stock in trade since her breakthrough in Atonement. (The Grand Budapest Hotel was lighthearted but her time onscreen was all too brief.)
Emory Cohen is a perfect match for Ronan and makes a strong impression as the diehard Dodger fan who sweeps her off her feet. There are no weak links in the supporting cast, including such rock-solid costars as Broadbent and Walters.
No two ways about it: Brooklyn is one of the year’s most entertaining films.