Lovingly observed coming-of-age/coming-to-America period piece is mainly exceptional in being the sort of gimmick-free ‘shopgirl romance’ once common, now rare in movies. Why they went out of fashion is anyone’s guess. (Too ‘soft’ for high stakes pitch meetings?). Why this one is getting such acclaim is less mysterious: the genre’s sentiment & payoffs remain satisfying as a Sunday supper; it gets the details right without making a fetish of it (the small budget holds scripter Nick Hornsby & director John Crowley in check so they can't swamp the story in needless atmosphere); plus, niceness sells (only one villain in the pic). Saoirse Ronan manages the trick of being both plain & pretty as the Irish gal hoping for a future in NYC. Tough going at first, she’s soon working, studying, dating & chatting up customers while pneumatic tube cylinders come back with receipt & change. But a crisis back home reintroduces her to old country warmth and another possible beau. It’s all quite involving & touching, but when the film’s designated bitch returns to gin up the plot with some late third-act melodrama, it simultaneously gives the film a much needed jolt, adds a false sounding note, and pushes toward a quick resolution that doesn’t entirely convince. When Joan Crawford (and dozens of others) did these things in the ‘30s, the conventions of the day told you where they were going from the start. Now, we need more explication, especially against overwhelming chemistry pulling in an unexpected direction.
DOUBLE-BILL: The conventions of shopgirl romance were already shopworn in 1941 when they got kidded to fine effect with Ginger Rogers debating the merits of TOM DICK AND HARRY.