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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Movie Review - Philomena

Philomena (2013)
Starring Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Sean Mahon, Peter Hermann, and Mare Winningham
Directed by Stephen Frears

In the 1940s, a teenage girl named Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark) gets pregnant and is sent to live at the Roscrea Catholic convent where she gives birth to her son Anthony.  The nuns have Philomena sign away her parental rights and end up giving the baby up for adoption, much to Philomena's distress.  Cut to decades later and an elderly Philomena (now played by Judi Dench) still finds herself thinking of her Anthony and wondering what happened to him, particularly now -- the year he would've turned fifty.  Philomena meets up with former disgraced politician-turned journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) who, in an attempt to help his image with the public, agrees to help the old woman search for her son in hopes that it will provide a fantastic human interest story for his bosses.

Based on a true story, Philomena doesn't shy away from heavy subject matter, tackling both religious and political themes.  While I welcome this aspect of Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope's script, I also must comment on their creative license that paints several figures in the piece as morally repugnant.  The film's final scene -- a showdown between two parties -- in fact never happened.  Placed in the film simply to up the dramatic quotient of things, the entire scene actually rang a bit untrue -- it was written almost childlike in its angry dialog -- and, come to find out, it never actually occurred.  Coogan and Pope were specifically twisting their plot to buoy their anti-religious standpoint.

However, for all the anti-Catholicism that occurs in the film, there is also a reverence given to the religion as well through the eyes of Philomena.  Despite all that happened to her as a child and the pain she's suffered through as an adult because of the loss of her child, she still looks to God for guidance.  The Catholic Church is certainly not without reproach and I give this film credit for trying to create a balance between the believers and the non-believers.  While I think Coogan and Pope went a step too far, they get close to their goal.

Philomena's story is a sad one, but the woman herself was a trooper and Judi Dench brings her joyful and respectful ways of life to the screen with gusto.  This'll sound corny, but there's heart on display that immediately connects the audience to the title character, with Dench bringing dignity to the title character's plight.  Dench really is fantastic here, garnering the accolade that I typically churn out at least once or twice an awards season -- even the slightest eye movement from conveys all we need to know about her character's internal thoughts which, to me, is an admirable quality in an actor.  While we certainly feel sorry for her, Philomena is a strong woman and Dench never makes us pity her -- something that easily could've happened.  Countering Dench, Steve Coogan's bitterness plays well against her and the duo really do have nice chemistry with one another.

Overall, Philomena is a solid film.  Although the writers made the finale a bit too dramatic for its own good, Dench's performance alone makes this one worth seeing.

The RyMickey Rating:  B


  1. This is the only best picture nominee I haven't seen and I really don't want to see it. I'm sure it's alright, it just sounds like a better quality lifetime movie. Ugh. 1055 tomorrow morning, here I come.
    And then probably August Osage County at some point as well. Then I will have seen every movie nominated in every major category.

  2. This one's not bad...In retrospect, my 'B' seems a tad high, but I didn't dislike the film in any big way and I really did find Dench to be fantastic. I've got a few nominees still to catch -- Wolf, Nebraska, Her. And then there's the movies I want to see to be well-rounded for the year that I'll probably just end up waiting to see on dvd -- Llewyn Davis, All Is Lost, etc.

  3. You'll like Nebraska and All is Lost. I think Wolf and Her will piss you off for some reason. Haven't seen Llewyn Davis yet.

    This movies was alright. Just what I said, a good lifetime movie.

  4. She was of course great. There is literally no reason this is best picture over say Short Term 12 (which is utterly fantastic and you need to see it), Before Midnight, or Fruitvale Station.

    It's the obligatory elderly centric nominee.

  5. I agree with the notion that it's the "elderly" contingent nominee (that should've gone to Saving Mr. Banks), but as of now, I would've held a spot for Dench in the top five women of the year for me.