“What’s the use of being Irish if the world doesn’t break your heart?”

— President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

It helps to be Irish, but no matter what, “Brooklyn” is going to break your heart right at the start of it.

When you go to see it again the third time, which you will, you’re going to feel the pain from that initial break.

And when, in a scene at a Christmas dinner at a homeless shelter in Brooklyn against a backdrop of falling snow, in a room filled with old, used up Irish laborers, a tall gaunt man known on the frozen streets as the best singer of Gaelic songs (Larla Lionaird) stands up and sings a mournful ballad, what’s left of your heart will shatter into a million pieces.

Sentimental? Of course. It’s Irish after all.

And when Saoirse (SEER-sha) Ronan as Eilis stands at the rail of the departing ship at Cobh and waves goodbye to her mother and sister and Ireland, I was reminded of the quote by that great Irish writer William Shakespeare, “If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.”

Eilis, in her early 20s, takes classes to learn to be a bookkeeper with the hope of being an accountant, but always with the goal of going to America. With the help of a local influential priest (a splendid Jim Broadbent) and the church, she is given money for school in America and set up in a proper boarding house for young Irish immigrant girls run by Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters).

Soon after Eilis finds work in a Brooklyn department store, her roommates take her to a dance at an Irish ballroom, where she encounters any number of boring immigrants. But across the room leaning against the wall is Tony, a young Italian-American plumber, sweet-faced and soft-spoken with an innocent charm (Emory Cohen), who comes to this place weekly because he just likes Irish girls, and now it seems he’s found one.

We’re so deeply invested in this girl with the bluest eyes, the milk soft skin and Blessed Mother smile that we give a wary eye to the Italian plumber.

But thanks be to God, young, fresh-faced Tony is any Irish mother and father’s dream. In the course of time, after a courting that takes in the beach at Coney Island, bus rides and walks in the park, Tony invites our Eilis to dinner with his working class Italian family. And what a grand time it is. Tony and Eilis’ romance bursts into bloom with a couple of surprises that bond and hold.

A family tragedy brings Eilis back to Ireland, where she is beset on all sides by those who love her to replant her roots and make her life there. At a wedding she meets Jimmy (Domhnall Gleeson), a wealthy Irish boy of good family who falls in love with her, and who wouldn’t? Here is where we clutch our seats and pray the rosary to influence her choice.

“Brooklyn” is taken from a novel by Irish writer Colm Toibin, screen-written by Nick Hornby and directed in soft and touching tones by John Crowley. It is, as one might expect from an Irish writer, both a ballad and a poem full of the joy of the house of life and the sadness and heartbreak waiting in its hidden rooms.

The perfect cast captivates and pulls us into the small town poverty and 1950 Ireland’s parochial villagers.

Emory Cohen as Tony, glowing with starlight, wins us over with his first words to Eilis, and there isn’t an off key note in the crowd. But it’s Saoirse’s lilting speeches and the Killarney lake blue of her eyes that spin us around and take us home.

“Brooklyn,” an uplifting and lovely story, is a Christmas gift I clearly wasn’t expecting.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

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