October 29, 2015 6:49 AM EDT

The beautiful Brooklyn evokes a family album filled with earlier lives, yet director John Crowley’s film, from Colm Tóibín’s novel, is no monochrome remembrance. With rich, complex emotions and an enthralling performance by Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), it’s a full-hearted drama realized with a bold palette. Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, who leaves Ireland for New York City in 1951. Heartbroken at being separated from her mum and sister, she moves into a Brooklyn boarding house, studies bookkeeping and meets sweet, funny Tony (Emory Cohen), a first-generation Italian-American. They sway together at neighborhood socials, kiss at Coney Island and plan a future while swooning on doorsteps. When tragedy takes Eilis back to Ireland, she’s courted by Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) and faces a choice. Filled with lovely details and boasting a layered script by Nick Hornby, Brooklyn is a sweet, sophisticated story about honoring the past while reimagining where home is.

This appears in the November 09, 2015 issue of TIME.

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