Homesickness is a phenomena that I feel like hasn’t justly been portrayed onscreen a ton. Which seems a bit strange considering it’s a dilemma that a lot of young people have to deal with at some point in early adulthood, whether they’ve moved to a different place for college, work, or just getting away from your parents and whatever bullshit infested your teenage life. I know it’s something I certainly dealt with when I started college in the middle of a sprawling metropolitan city that was far removed from my hometown, and I can still remember that first week in San Francisco before classes where I felt so shaken by this cosmic shift in geography and my psychology that I felt too sick to my stomach to eat for about a week before I eventually adapted to these new surroundings. Brooklyn concerns an even more seismic shift in one Irish girl’s life, as she makes a journey to America that seems so indicative of the mass emigration of Europeans towards America during the first half of the 20th century.
This Irish girl is named Eilis, and she’s played by Siorse Ronan, so you know she has a kind of confidence hidden beneath a seemingly shy demeanor that’s irresistible without ever trying to be. Eilis immediately has a bit of a rough time adjusting to the realities of living in a place that seems so foreign, but not entirely foreign considering New York was swimming with Irish immigrants by the time of the film’s 1952 setting. These difficulties of making sense of living so far away from home become a little less difficult when Eilis meets a nice young Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen), and the two become adorably in love each other. However, their blossoming relationship is threatened when family troubles force Eilis to move back to Ireland for a time, and she finds herself falling back in love with her hometown as well as a nice Irish boy played by who else but Domhnall Gleeson.
If homesickness is a concept that we haven’t seen explored that much on screen, young love is. Like overwhelmingly so. And yet, there’s something very sweet and pure about seeing this polite romance between two characters that are just figuring out what love is, while also figuring out what that means in a place like Brooklyn in the mid-20th century. And I think much of the film’s charm lies in the fact that it does take such a simple approach to such a classically American story — that of a young immigrant finding their way in America — and while also not being half as depressing as last year’s The Immigrant. Also, I just think this is a role that’s tailor-made for a performer like Saoirse Ronan, who not only spent time living in New York and Ireland in her own youth, but has an equal amount of vulnerability and confidence that few actors her age have.
Now as great of a job as Brooklyn does of making us feel that homesickness that Eilies feels for her native Ireland, I wish the movie didn’t do such a great job of making the audience feel homesick towards the movie’s first two acts. Because once the movie (and Eilis) return to Ireland late in the movie, I feel like this story loses a lot of its steam. There’s supposed to be a kind of love-triangle between her and Dohmnhall Gleason, but at that point I just felt like Eilis and that Italian kid felt like such a good fit that this part of the movie came off like a bit of an afterthought. And Eilis being torn between the bright lights of NYC and the green pastures of her native Ireland seems like something that would have totally worked in Colm Tóibín’s novel that the movie is based on, but doesn’t quite here. So for that, I’ll just say that this is a nice little movie. Not quite nice enough for me to fall in love with, but nice nonetheless.