I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 2015 has been one of the best years ever for women in film. From Brie Larson in Room, to Carey Mulligan in Suffragette, to even Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, there’s no shortage of worthy contenders for this year’s Best Actress statuette. Another name that mustn’t be forgotten come awards season is Saoirse Ronan. At the age of 13, Ronan established herself as one of our most gifted up-and-coming performers with her Oscar-nominated work in Atonement. At the age of 21, Ronan demonstrates remarkable depth with her magical performance in Brooklyn.
Illuminating the silver screen like a young Meryl Streep, Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, an Irish woman who leaves her family behind for a better life in America. Upon arriving in Brooklyn, New York, the shy immigrant immediately becomes homesick for her native land. She has a rough time warming up to her landlady (Julie Walters), boss (Jessica Paré), and fellow boarding house residents (Emily Bett Rickards, Eve Macklin). Eilis starts to come out of her shell, however, when she meets a handsome Italian man named Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen). Reminiscent of Marlon Brando in his prime, Tony helps Eilis to see the big city for the enchanting fairytale land it is.
Happily ever after, once upon a time in America doesn’t come that easily for Eilis and Tony, however. Tragedy strikes Eilis’ family in Ireland and she travels home to support her mother, who has no other living relatives. Eilis tells herself that she’ll return to Tony, but is pressured by the community to move back permanently. She only becomes more conflicted after getting setup with a kind, patient, and considerate Irishman, played by Domhnall Gleeson. Not entirely knowing what she wants anymore, Eilis begins to question where her heart and home reside.
On paper, Brooklyn almost sounds like something out of a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. With its love triangle and several characters that could’ve been one-dimensional villains, the film is given so many opportunities to come off as discount melodrama. Rather than being a contrived soap opera, though, director John Crowley and writer Nick Hornby have made a lovely slice of life picture that feels completely genuine.
Whether you grew up in the 1950s or are growing up in today’s world, anybody can identify with the critical juncture Eilis must confront. Playing her role with impeccable empathy and honesty, Ronan keeps the audience guessing where Eilis will choose to put down her roots. I won’t dare give away the answer to this question. Let’s just say that Eilis ultimately walks away from the experience a stronger, smarter, and more independent person.
That may sound like an obvious final destination. The way Brooklyn reaches its final destination is anything but obvious, however. The film tackles coming of age themes with great subtlety, in addition to great humor, romance, and wisdom as well. It not only empowers young women everywhere, but it encourages us all to choose who we are and where we belong in this world.