Ronan stars as Eilis Lacey, an Irish girl who’s living in Ireland until her sister Rose gets the local priest to arrange for Eilis to go to the United States for a job there, more money and possibly a better life. She leaves and it’s a bit of a bumpy path to get there and settle into it, but she’s incredibly fortunate. She lives in a boarding house. She has a job and eventually she meets a nice boy. She’s good, but a tragedy brings her back to Ireland. The final third of the film becomes if she’ll make the choice to stay in Ireland or go back to America, and it’s here that the film falls apart.
Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines and Four) co-stars as Tony, the aforementioned nice boy who was most likely born and raised in New York and who is of Italian descent. He works as a plumber, because that’s an easy Italian stereotype, and is a staunch fan of the Dodgers baseball team, obviously before the team moved to Los Angeles, which sets the time period in the 1950’s.
Eilis meets Tony (pictured above) at a dance, specifically organized for the Irish people living in Brooklyn, New York. Tony proclaims that he’s there because he specifically likes Irish girls, as opposed to Italian girls or any other type. This is red flag number one because what does that mean? What is it about Irish girls that makes him so attracted, or that’s even all that distinctive from other girls who are for argument’s sake not black or brown-skinned? It can’t be anything all that superficial and if so, should someone with that kind of thinking be what we want as our romantic lead?
It’s good that Eilis wants to pursue schooling and get an education. She takes classes, which teaches her bookkeeping and paralegal work. She becomes really good at it, even smarter or more adept at it than even some of her male classmates. However, from the moment she arrives in the United States, she’s a bit homesick and a bit more depressed. She’s only lifted out of it when she meets Tony.
Yes, I understand it’s the 50’s but is this movie, directed by John Crowley and written by Nick Hornby, really saying that the only way this girl or any girl can be happy anywhere is with a boy? Yes, I get that this film is trying to be a love story, as if there aren’t enough white, hetero-normative, love stories in the world, but, in a crucial scene when Tony tells Eilis he loves her and she doesn’t respond by saying it back, I thought the film might veer from the obvious, hetero-normative path.
In the follow-up scene, Eilis questions one of the girls in the boardinghouse about marriage, almost as if she’s looking for guidance out of it. Yet, this isn’t the case. The very next scene, Eilis is skipping almost happily down that obvious path. She in fact marries Tony in a quick ceremony at the Justice of the Peace without friends or family, but not before having premarital sex with him, slapping down the idea that she’s some good, Irish-Catholic girl. Beyond that, there are of course a lot of issues with their quickie marriage that the movie mentions but doesn’t really address. This is red flag number two.
Eilis then goes back to Ireland. Red flag number three is the fact that Eilis keeps her marriage to Tony a secret from her mother and all her friends across the sea. No reason for this is given. It makes absolutely no sense. Hornby adapted this film from a book by Colm Tóibín and Tóibín’s book makes more sense of it. Hornby leaves out the fact that before Eilis left Ireland, she had an infatuation and possible, secret love for Jim Farrell, played by Domhnall Gleeson (About Time and Unbroken).
These feelings that Eilis had for Jim (pictured below) before leaving are completely cut out of the film, so when she returns and starts to behave in the manner she does, it makes no sense at all. It makes Eilis look like an idiot or weirdly capricious. She’s basically lying to everyone and hanging Tony out to dry. Yet, a false moment rings when Eilis gets angry that someone calls her out on it, but the moment is meant to put us on the side of Eilis. No! It felt wrong.
What also felt wrong is when Eilis proclaims that she wants to be with Tony, while in Ireland, but she’s demonstrated in no way that that could even remotely be true. She spends the whole time lying and leading on another guy, the aforementioned Jim, so Hornby undermines his love story. That, and he undermines things even further with a line of dialogue from Eilis toward the end. When asked what America is like, she says, “It’s just like home.” If that’s the case, then why is she leaving?
It can’t be for love because Hornby undermined that. However, we’re supposed to buy that it is for love, but I don’t think anyone here even knows what love truly is.
One Star out of Five.
Rated PG – 13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 45 mins.