Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Trailers for this film sell it as a girl caught between two men; in reality, it is a story of self-awakening. Young Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is an innocent Irish girl who has never set foot outside her small town. Her loving sister pulls some strings to get her a job, a place to stay, and a life in New York City. Packing her bags, Eilis enters a completely different world. She must adapt to her new home, her new job working in a department store, and the brash Americans all around her. Homesickness nearly makes her ill, until she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), an Italian boy who comes to Irish dances "because I like Irish girls."
Though Tony's forwardness startles her at first, Eilis develops affections for him... and forms a bond that will be tested when circumstances beyond her control send her back to Ireland for a month. Returning home feels strange. She slips back into her old habits. She even meets a new boy, Jim (Domhnall Gleeson), whom everyone in her life insists is the best possible match for her. But at home, Tony is pining. Eilis is torn. Letters sit unopened in her dresser drawer. She must make a choice -- between a new life free of the past, or an old one. Or is it a choice at all? Eilis, you see, has a secret she has told no one that will change everything.
I have not read the book on which this is based, but the movie does differ from it. It makes Eilis more sympathetic, although there really is no way around it -- she is "two-timing" the boy who loves her. The film does a beautiful job of exploring the unknown in a girl's life... her first love, her first kiss, her first intimate encounter, the doubt, confusion, and uncertainty that accompanies making major life decisions. She is impulsive at times, shy, unsure of what she wants. It's something many people can resonate with. It does have a happy ending, but some hearts get broken along the way because Eilis, less innocently, plays with them. Whether you see her pain, confusion, and write off this action as innocent or see something more malicious behind it is up to you; the movie makes no judgments.
The cast is marvelous, though the film really lands on the shoulders of Ronan, who has the cinematic weight to pull it off. Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters intrude, him as a fatherly priest, she as the hilarious, rather unorthodox landlady. The costumes are a delight. The film feels soft, warm, and comforting, like a pair of old, loved shoes. Eilis comes into her own... finally, but maybe not soon enough. It moves at a steady pace, a story without much in the way of extreme drama, just the turbulence of a girl's soul. It misses only one mark -- a good Catholic girl (and presumably, a Catholic Italian boy) going to bed together, with neither of them struggling against their religious upbringing. (The book, I am told, does deal with that more.) It seems a missing piece of an otherwise engaging story.
One incredibly awkward sex scene between two virgins (they undress, crawl onto a bed; heavy breathing, thrusting).
Jesus' name is abused a couple of times; general profanities.
Adultery is considered.