By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Philomena (Judi Dench) is an elderly Irish woman with a secret. 50 years ago, she had a son out of wedlock, and was forced to give him up for adoption. Over the years, Philomena tried to find out information about her son, but received no help from the Convent who persuaded her to do so. Enter Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a recently fired BBC Journalist looking for a story to revive his career. Philomena’s story catches his attention, and the two of them work together to find the truth behind what happened.
Philomena’s story is harrowing, as her secret was kept for so long based on the shame and guilt which was instilled in her by the Nuns at the Convent where she was interred, essentially as a indentured servant. To Philomena, the pain of not knowing her son’s whereabouts was part of her penance for having pre-marital sex. The Church meanwhile actively works to hide the truth from her, even to the point of burning documents which would help lead her to the truth.
Steve Coogan and Judi Dench share brilliant onscreen chemistry; it is their relationship with each other that makes the movie work. Philomena is a slightly ignorant, but street-smart old lady, who has spent her entire life working for a living. Judi Dench delivers an incredibly layered performance as her emotions are tested at every turn. This culminates in an incredible moment where she finally confronts the Nun who took her child away from her. Even in the face of a truly unrepentant and cruel person, she finds it in herself to remain kind.
Martin on the other hand is a highly educated, cynical individual and isn’t exactly a people person. The film’s greatest comedic moments come from the clash of their personalities. This comedy is vital, as it helps lend some levity to a story which deals with some emotionally heavy themes. The writing is sharp and witty, while never feeling overly stylized, a credit to the subtleties of Steve Coogan’s comedic talents.
Pictured above: Subtle
Director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen) cuts between modern day and the 1950s, slowly revealing Philomena’s story as well as fleshing out Martin’s background. He paces the film perfectly, creating a mystery where each revelation creates new questions that keep the audience interested.
While I understand that without it, the movie may not have been funded, the product placement is awfully distracting, and took me out of the film at several major moments. In one instance; a major plot-point is resolved via the Guinness beer logo. Later in the film, a critical moment of suspense is all but spoiled by a clearly forced line of dialogue in which Judi Dench comments on how much she likes the new Mazda Miata. Even the Marvel Comic book films have less distracting product placement than this.
A fantastic comedy-drama with a nice touch of mystery to boot. Just grin and bear the advertisements.
Take a Drink: each time Philomena fails to laugh at a joke
Take a Drink: for shameless product placement
Do a Shot: when someone in the theater cries. (Two shots if it is you)