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Ronan carries 'Brooklyn,' a compelling portrait of 20th-century American immigration
Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey in "Brooklyn." - photo by Josh Terry
BROOKLYN 3 stars Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Eileen O'Higgins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent; PG-13 (a scene of sexuality and brief strong language); in general release

"Brooklyn" is a poignant study of culture and assimilation. It follows a woman named Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) who pensively leaves her native Ireland for New York City in the years following World War II in search of her own American Dream.

Initially, "Brooklyn" feels like a classic story about a small-town girl determined to make her dreams come true in the big city. Back home in Ireland, Eilis struggles to find her place. She's shy and reserved, and not especially qualified for any career. When she goes to local dances, the boys don't look her way, and working for the local miser/witch Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan) doesn't help matters.

So, thanks to a little help from a family friend in America, Eilis sets off for New York, where she's taken in at a Brooklyn boarding house. Right away, she has a job at a high-end Manhattan department store, even though her shy nature makes her a little slow to connect with customers.

Bit by bit, she acclimates to her new world, but things really get going when she meets a boy named Tony (Emory Cohen) at a social dance for local Irish immigrants. Tony is Italian, with aspirations for becoming a successful plumber, but he confesses to Eilis that he likes Irish girls, and slowly his intentions are proven genuine.

Early on, there isn't a lot of conflict to drive "Brooklyn" outside of the strangeness and newness of Eilis's life, but right as her relationship with Tony shifts into a new gear, a death back home threatens to undo all of her progress. Eilis travels back to Ireland to attend to her family, the temp job she picks up isnt all that interested in being temporary, and a friend introduces Eilis to a new suitor named Jim (Domhnall Gleeson).

There are other complications, which won't be revealed here. But the result is Eilis's struggle to decide between her new, self-built life, and the old life that beckons her back. It's a difficult decision, though some of those complications make Eilis's situation into more of a right choice-wrong choice than it might have been otherwise.

"Brooklyn" sits squarely on the shoulders of its lead actress, and Ronan carries the film well. She balances innocence and poise with enough appeal to keep things interesting, even if the story leads her to a decision or two that feels out of character. It's important to note the screenplay from Nick Hornby, a British novelist better known for modern romantic comedy material like "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy" than period pieces.

The film also feels like a compelling echo of a 21st-century issue. Where the recent "Jimmy's Hall" felt like a determined commentary on contemporary issues, "Brooklyn" offers a counterpoint to today's immigration issues that feels decidedly non-political, and practically nostalgic.

Its easy to step back and enjoy "Brooklyn" as a compelling portrait of a historic window in America's past. It isn't perfect, but its flaws arent enough to stifle a strong message about independence, choice and loyalty.

"Brooklyn" is rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language; running time: 111 minutes.
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