(2015) *** 1/2 Pg-13
111 min. Fox Searchlight. Director: John Crowley. Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent.

/content/films/4854/1.jpg“Involving” is the word for the drama Brooklyn, a romance of people and places adapted from Colm Tóibín’s novel. Even if you don’t like the film—though it’s a fair bet you will—it will prime you for a spirited discussion about the choices of its hero, a resilient Irish lass who strives to sort out her best judgement from her impulses, her hope from her naiveté.

At the film’s outset, in the early 1950s, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) makes her final preparations to leave the Emerald Isle, her elder sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), and their mother (Jane Brennan) on a stomach-churning steamer journey to a new life in America. Eilis, meet Ellis (Island, that is), the forbidding but magical portal to a strange land of promise called New York City. Under the watchful care of Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), Eilis is installed at a boarding house for Irish immigrant girls, run by the no-nonsense “Ma” Kehoe (Julie Walters). As she ponders her future as a striving immigrant, Eilis takes tentative first steps in the workplace and on the social scene. Teary homesickness threatens her employment at a department store (where her boss is Mad Men’s Jessica Paré), while the local Irish dance hall finds Eilis initially taken aback by the aggressive informality of young American men’s advances.

That all changes when she meets Italian-American boy Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), who immediately hits the sweet spot between unceremonious charm and respectful manners. Their whirlwind courtship dovetails with the headiness of feeling her oats as—helicopter-parent figures notwithstanding—an independent woman with increasingly plausible dreams for her future. Cue the complication…in short order, a crisis forces Eilis to put her relationship on hold to return home to Ireland, allowing her heartsick family and friends—and, worryingly for an audience invested in Tony, another attractive suitor (Domhnall Gleeson’s Jim)—to make a last bid to keep Eilis in the home country. In summary, Brooklyn sounds like an old-school paperback romance, and in some respects, it is.

But under the sensitive direction of stage-trained director John Crowley (Intermission, Is Anybody There?), and the emotional influence of Ronan’s resonant leading performance, Brooklyn delicately turns the basic into the elemental, prompting us to examine our strong attachments, how we form them, and why we might consider breaking them. It’s a story about calibrating one’s personal compass, and since the adaptation by novelist-screenwriter Nick Hornby (the similarly themed An Education and Wild) resolutely resists telling, Ronan gets to unshowily show every thought and feeling in her organic micro-expressions.

Brooklyn isn’t that kind of movie that insists on one a single authorial perspective on its events, and it makes no guarantee that its ending spells happiness: audiences are invited to make up their own minds, like Eilis, about the trueness of this love story’s love and the rectitude of Eilis’ life-changing decisions.

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