The film is about home, what it means, where we find it. While some of the main character's choices in the second half of the film may seem odd to some, maybe even enough to disqualify her as a "sympathetic hero," I didn't feel that way. I felt that she was working through the grief and confusion of losing her sister, guilt for having left her to what turned out to be a blessed life in New York, responsibility toward her mother, and doubt that she should have married someone from a different culture so quickly. Sure, she shouldn't have gotten close to the Irish fellow, but she could be seen as being in a trance, a dream, remembering the good of her homeland now with different eyes, living on the other side now as a visitor with strong ties. In retrospect I identify with her more than I did watching the film, but the reason it is a great film is that it would take much reflection and even more than one viewing to get to the bottom of it.
Of course, I read the posts on IMDB.com and posters say, "It's different in the book," but I have no intention of reading the book right now. Once a writer sells his or her book to a different medium like play, screenplay, or teleplay, he or she has given up something.
It's not a perfect analogy, but it's like seeing a photograph of a great painting like the Burial of the Count of Orgaz and seeing the real artwork. I picked that because I have seen it in Toledo, Spain, and it struck me more than I expected. I have seen the Mona Lisa (La Giaconde) and it didn't do that much for me, although the eyes and expression are creepy. The most moving painting I have seen is Picasso's Guernica, which brought me to tears, and I do not cry easily.
Anyway, enough travelogue. The movie is not just a smaller version of the book, a condensed version that takes two hours to watch rather than several days (at least for me) to read. It is an entirely different medium In a photograph one cannot usually see the depth, the texture, the size of the work, all its characteristics, as one would with the real painting. One is left up to the choices and the skills of the filmmakers, so comparisons are in some ways beside the point. Either the film stands on its own as a film or it doesn't, but one can't say, "But in the book. . . "
It's a slow film, "eligiac" as one has said, very visual, sweet and charming, with just enough reality thrown in to remind us that the immigrant experience has not been sweet and charming for everyone but that coming to America is still worthy of the dream.