Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is an intelligent, sensitive, and shy 20 year old who lives in a small Irish town with her widowed mother and older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott). She works part-time in a grocery store for a bigoted and nasty old crone, Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan).
Then her loving sister opens the doors to a new life for her. She arranges through an Irish Catholic priest (Jim Broadbent) living in Brooklyn for Eilis to get passage to America, a rooming house where she can live, and a job in a department store. Although grateful for what has been done for her, Eilis isn't all that sure she wants to leave Ireland. She is attached to the routines and the rhythms of her life.
Fortunately during her trip across the ocean, a kind Englishwoman helps her when she gets seasick, then coaches her on a smooth transit through immigration. At the boarding house, she at first feels out-of-place, but the owner, Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters), likes her sense of responsibility and gives her the best room in the house. But even with these developments, Eilas feels homesick and cries whenever she reads one of her sister's letters.
At a dance, Tony (Emory Cohen), a working-class Italian plumber who likes Irish girls, takes a fancy to her, and they begin a cautious, no-frills romance. Suddenly, Eilis is energized and snaps out of her depression. But then she is called back to Ireland. There she reconnects with an old friend who is getting married, and she is courted by Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), who treats her well. She must decide again whether to stay there or go back to America.
Brooklyn is a very sturdy and positive portrait of an immigrant during the 1950s. John Cowley directs from a screenplay by Nick Hornby based on a novel by Colm Toibin. The kindness of others provides Eilis with the energy and fortitude she needs to pull herself out of the homesickness that swamps her. She finds the means to not only survive in her new life but to flourish in it. Her story reminds us of the universal quest for home and a place where one can really belong.