Friday, December 6, 2013

Philomena: Movie Review


Masterfully written, beautifully portrayed story that is better than just a human interest story.
“Philomena” starts with Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) in the doctor’s office; he’s quite pleased with news of his outstanding stool sample – until he realizes it just means that it hasn’t been received yet. The humour is kind of a like that. You don’t realize that the movie is funny until a joke has just been said and you’ve been given a moment to digest the punch line. The movie really is very funny. 2013

Directed by: Stephen Frears

Screenplay by: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope

Starring: Steve Coogan and Judi Dench

From left to right: Judi Dench plays Philomena Lee, Steve Coogan
plays Martin Sixsmith in PHILOMENA, an eOne Films release.
Martin Sixsmith has just been fired due to poor communications within the Labour Party. He’s been asked to do a human interest story, and he proceeds to tell this poor woman, in no uncertain terms, exactly how he feels about human interest stories. As I don’t want to do the dialogue injustice by improperly paraphrasing, let’s just say that he feels about human interest stories the same way I do – their only value is to make the audience cry for 15 minutes and then is completely forgotten in a sea of worthlessness.

Since “Philomena” is a human interest story, I couldn’t wait to see how they juxtaposed that they were telling the very type of story that they hate. This works on a few levels. For starters, the story that they set out to tell is solved half-way through the movie. Sure, it’s a sad story but it is told so humorously due to the differences between Martin, the writer, and Philomena (Judi Dench), the heroine.

One of Judi Dench's most affecting performances. Philomena has real, pure emotion that is not dictated by Steve Coogan's character or his screenplay, but arguably the real Philomena Lee. Her faith gives her the fortitude and forgiveness where she accepts the hardships of her life instead of blaming those that caused them.

Philomena was raised by Catholic nuns and when she got pregnant as a teenager, her son was taken away from her. She wants to find her son and get some closure. Martin, who refers to the Catholic nuns as the evil nuns, has no problem telling this story because he wants to expose an ugly history to the Catholic Church.

“Do you believe in God?” Is not a simple question for Martin, but for Philomena it's simply “yes”. The film walks an interesting line with Catholicism. The lead character fully embraces her faith and all the positive attributes it gave her. The religious viewers should be able to appreciate that. Anti-religious viewers have Martin – an extremely intelligent and funny man who has plenty of digs at the evil nun, and in turn gives us plenty of ammunition to the hate the evil nuns and the church who created them.

“Philomena” is elevated to that of a brilliant film because it makes an otherwise sad story funny, it juxtaposes the Atheist Martin with the Catholic Philomena and tells a story that they’re both happy with – the evil nuns are evil but their beliefs are still allowed to be their beliefs. It’s a masterfully written, beautifully portrayed story that is better than just a human interest story.
Best of 2013

Similar Titles:

Woman in Gold (2015) - Succeeds in telling a story that's interesting.

Calvary (2014) - The dark past of the Catholic Church turned into a darkly comedic tale of morality.

Nebraska (2013) - Simple story, characters, photography and comedy done pretty much to perfection.