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Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Hanna, The Lovely Bones) is one of my all time favorite actresses of my generation and in general. I think her talent radiates and she has mastered the art of subtlety. At 21, she has given enough quality performances to be cemented as a one of the younger “greats”. Yes, she was nominated for an Oscar for Atonement at 13 but it’s more than that. Her choices in roles she brings to life seem deliberate and different enough to challenge her. I more than appreciate a performer who is willing to try new things. Now with my love letter for Ronan coming to a close, let me explain to why this film deserves the recognition of award nominations this season.
Based on the novel with the same title, this is the story of millions of Irish immigrants and the struggle of immigrating in general. When Eilis moves to Brooklyn from Ireland, she struggles the moment she steps on the ship. We get a sense that Eilis is reserved, shy, and modest. When an older Irishwoman takes her under her wing and explains all she must do when they reach the border police at the port to the states, some instructions include: don’t cough, look American, and look like you know where you are going. The best part about this film is that any and everyone can relate to Eilis as she adjusts to a new way of life, whether you are starting a new school, moving to a new state, or new country; this feeling is universal. You are no longer what you once were but you also are not quite fully immersed to your new surroundings and you may never be.
Eilis struggles with waves of homesickness as she adjusts to 1950’s American life. Brooklyn is a far cry from Ireland where everyone is Irish and everyone looks Irish. The older woman on the boat warns Eilis against surrounding herself with other Irish immigrants which could be challenging seeing as the boarding house she lives in is made up of Irish women but somehow she meets a lovely Italian American fellow (Emory Cohen) named Tony whom, as you can probably guess, she falls in love with. Their love is reluctant on her end and full force on his. I found their rapport to be quite charming and sweet. When tragedy strikes back home, Eilis must leave. She promises to return back to Brooklyn but that proves more difficult as time goes on and it seems that all in her life (mom, best friend, new Irish love interest, boss) make it harder and harder to go back to the states.
The confidence that grows within this young woman as the plot progresses is palpable in a way a only a distinguished actress like Ronan can portray. By the end, when she is helping another young Irish woman transitioning to American life and gives the same advice her guide gave her, the film feels like it came full circle.
My mother’s side of the family immigrated from Ireland so this film was particularly special to me as it highlighted a portion of my heritage that I had never truly considered. I’m sure many Irish Americans will feel the same way, the film itself might unleash a sense of pride in our culture we don’t usually exhibit.
For me, there was a point in the last 15-20 minutes or so where the film lagged. I was ready to learn of her decision between two young men and more importantly, two countries, but overall this is a marvelous film that is paced nicely.
With genuine 1950’s clothing and accessories, a fresh and authentic storyline, as well as the master of nuance playing Eilis, this film just felt honest.

Brooklyn is streaming now on the following services:
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