With the exception of that time she played an assassin in Hanna, Saoirse Ronan is often confined to roles unworthy of someone who can actually act (see: The Lovely Bones). So it's exciting to see her carry a well-constructed film once again, as she does in Brooklyn. Based on the novel by Colm Tóibín and directed by theater veteran John Crowley, Brooklyn's an understated study of a young Irish woman, Eilis Lacey (Ronan). It's a keyhole portrait of her displacement and resilience as she finds herself caught between her ancestral home in Ireland and 1950s New York, where she's found professional success and fallen in love with a cute Italian plumber (Emory Cohen <3).
Brooklyn is shamelessly caught up in its beautiful period details, but though it stars Megan from Mad Men as Eilis's scary, glamorous boss, it contains none of that throwback's signature cynicism. This is a good thing, because it means it's closer in tone to a James Salter novel than a bleak backward glance: Everything is jewel-toned, beauty is abundant, romance is everywhere, and though there's a low-level underlying melancholy, it's of a hardy, everyday variety. If you're looking for scenery-chewing melodrama, you won't find it here.
Brooklyn's been marketed as a love triangle, but luckily, it isn't. Eilis's choice is pretty clear from the outset, and if Brooklyn fits into any thematic category, it's as a filmed bildungsroman, as Eilis quietly, however reluctantly, learns and masters her new surroundings and determines who she is and what she values, and how she wants to spend her adult life.
It's refreshing to see this largely internal, cerebral journey of an introverted young woman play out onscreen, and Nick Hornby's screenplay, never afraid of sentimentality, keeps such a contained narrative from feeling too cold or distant. That's right: Brooklyn is good because it's so wholesome, so emotive, so free of irony, without qualifiers, and your grandma will probably like it a lot. But its full-scale commitment to its own emotional core sets it apart from films less comfortable with feelings. It'll leave you in a good mood, and sometimes, that's exactly what's needed.