From its first moments, Brooklyn is both helped and blunted by its accessibility. John Crowley’s adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel about a young Irish immigrant’s journey to America and struggle to acclimatize is a restrained, lovely work that’s low on thrills and spills. The story of Eilis Lacey isn’t suffused with the kind of impoverished anguish one might associate with stories of postwar immigration, but it still doesn’t lack for emotion and quiet wit, rendered sensitively by Crowley and the screenwriter Nick Hornby and anchored by a confident lead performance from Saoirse Ronan as Eilis, who saves the film whenever it threatens to veer into formulaic territory.
That’s a frequent risk, given how straightforward Eilis’s story is. A smart girl trapped in a mundane town in economically depressed Ireland, she leaves her mother and sister to move to Brooklyn with the sponsorship of her local parish. She goes to night school to become a bookkeeper, stays at a boarding house with a clucking, well-meaning matron (Julie Walters, who can do this in her sleep), and eventually meets a nice Italian plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen) who clumsily tries to sweep her off her feet before realizing she’s too level-headed for all that. Though homesickness pulls at her heartstrings, Eilis is not a tormented figure, but she is a universal one: She’s caught between her comfortable, traditional upbringing and the land of opportunity.