Moving to a different country is dramatic in and of itself, but director John Crowley intensified this drama to an overbearing degree. For instance, when Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) first steps into the United States, she walks through a door that floods the screen with light upon opening. A Christmas scene at the soup kitchen also stood out as similarly melodramatic. Although it was touching, I couldn’t help but feel like it was some educational program on the merits of community service.
My other main issue with this movie is that its women are generally one-dimensional. Eilis, for instance, is a steadfast symbol of hard-working, conservative values. On the other hand, her fellow female boarders in America and her best friend from Ireland are depicted as materialistic, shallow, and corrupting. The way they dress and speak is clearly supposed to determine their intelligence and general capabilities. Mothers in the film are also one-dimensional, depicted as sexless, strict pillars of morality and judgment.
I would be remiss to leave out what I liked about this movie. Emory Cohen’s acting stole the show with his charming delivery of lines and attention to physical minutiae. Ronan’s acting is also naturalistic, although I have my reservations about the extent to which she stares off blankly into space. Although the film’s main conflict has largely been pitched as Eilis having to decide between two romantic interests, this is a film about homesickness. Eilis reconciles the complicated feelings of nostalgia for her old home, love for her new home, and the maturity that comes with living in a new place. This film was not so much about romance as it was about learning to deal with the complications of moving to a different place. Finally, I enjoyed the fact Eilis considered moving back to Ireland and realized that there could be a life for her there, because it avoided pitching America at the best and only option for every immigrant.
This movie will resonate with anyone who has moved somewhere and found themselves in culture shock, only to go home and find that they have irrevocably changed. It is also entertaining, and therefore worth seeing. However, if you’re sensitive to heavy-handed stereotypes and typical film tropes, it might get on your nerves.