Eillis (Saoirse Ronan) is a nice Irish girl growing up in post-world-war-II Ireland, where the economy was...not robust. Her older sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott) had a bookkeeping job in a local plant, but that took some specialized training, which Eillis could ill-afford. She had a low-paying job which could not support her, working Sundays-only behind the counter for a local bakery, under a cruel and haughty proprietress. Eillis lived with her widowed mother and sister, didn't have a boyfriend, and didn't have much prospect for her life improving anytime soon. But a kind relative arranges for her to immigrate to America, to Brooklyn, New York, and there's even a decent job awaiting, as a sales clerk in an upscale department store. So Eillis leaves everything she's ever known, and sails to America.
Though she's bewildered and homesick, she manages to make her way. In her boarding house, there are at least other Irish girls, and at mealtimes there is usually lively conversation, presided over by the crusty and feisty landlady (Julie Walters). The department store job is OK, although the posh clientele tend to be haughty and condescending. The kindly local priest, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), arranges for her to attend night school, in bookkeeping, where she seems to have a talent and an interest. (The priest comically explains to Eillis that the anonymous benefactor is doing his penance, but he won't say for what sin!)
But her whole world becomes rosier when, at one of those desultory Friday night dance clubs, she meets a young man who's actually not Irish, but Italian. Tony (Emory Cohen) is a plumber from a big, close-knit Italian family, who loves the Dodgers, and dotes on Eillis. He's so kind and considerate that he doesn't rush Eillis, but shows up to walk her home from her night class, and asks her to movies and dinner. Eillis is charmed by his attention, and slowly warms up to his affections. But then her life changes dramatically when she receives word that her sister, Rose, has suddenly died, and she feels she must take the boat back to Ireland. She promises Tony that she'll return to him.
But things back in Ireland are dramatically different. Her grieving mother is now alone. Her best girlhood friend is getting married, and insists on bringing along Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) with her fiance when they go out together, for an unexpected “double date” with old friends. Eillis doesn't bother to explain that she has Tony back in America, because she thinks she's just visiting anyway and it won't be an issue. But she finds herself warming up to Jim, whom she's known all her life, and now things start getting confusing. She's also offered Rose's old job at the plant, on a temporary basis, and now she has more going on at home than she does in America.
Will she stay or will she go? Yes, it's the old love triangle, but with the added dynamic of choosing the comfortable and familiar over the new and adventurous. Though Saoirse Ronan is not exactly a classic beauty, still, the viewer is drawn to her girl-next-door persona, and her quiet, introspective personality. Some viewers will be more interested in the re-creation of 1952 than others. (The lack of instant and constant communication is definitely a factor in the plot.) Yes, “Brooklyn” is kind of “chicky flicky,” as the main character is a young woman and her romances (and her relationships with her mother and her sister), but at least the male characters are not insignificant. So, overall: a decent date movie.