This is weird: John Crowley was originally supposed to direct the upcoming Carol, but he dropped out due to a scheduling conflict. Instead, the Irish filmmaker made another movie that, just like Carol, is set in 1952 in New York City and concerns a young woman who works in a department store. Well, it all worked out for us, because both the film that he abandoned and the film he left it for, Brooklyn, turned out really good. The latter movie expands to Tarrant County theaters this week, and while it’s hopelessly old-fashioned, sometimes that’s the best way to go.
Saoirse Ronan stars as a Eilis Lacey, a teenage Irish girl who can’t find work beyond a miserable part-time clerking job in her tiny hometown of Enniscorthy, County Wexford. With only her and her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) to support their aging Mammy (Jane Brennan), it’s decided that Eilis — that name pronounced EY-lish — leave for a job and a spot in a boarding house all lined up in New York. Despite terrible bouts of homesickness, Eilis eventually starts to feel comfortable in the borough that’s an enclave of Irish and Italian immigrants.
By now you’ve likely heard the 20-year-old Ronan doing all sorts of foreign accents: English (Atonement), American (How I Live Now), or indeterminately European (The Grand Budapest Hotel). Here she finally gets to use her own accent for the role, and perhaps it’s no coincidence that she delivers her finest performance yet with it. Nothing traumatic or even all that out of the ordinary happens to Eilis, but Ronan is so alert and precisely calibrated here that she seems to register all the smallest changes in the winds around her and in her own moods. She shows a teasing sense of humor that she hasn’t been allowed to display before in the scenes where she flirts with a young Italian-American plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen, exuding his own raffish charm).