Up next, as we slowly approach the Academy Awards, is the British-French comedy-drama Philomena, based off the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. Directed by Stephen Frears and starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, it is rated PG-13 for some strong language and sexual references.
Philomena tells the true story of the titular character, played by Judi Dench, who had her son taken away from her when she was a teenager living in a Catholic convent. Martin Sixsmith (Coogan), a journalist who has been recently outcast by the Labour party, is approached by Philomena’s daughter, who asks him to write a story about her mother. Martin, initially hesitant, takes on the story and eventually ends up in America. The two bond, discovering much about each other, as well as uncovering her son’s fate.
6.5 out of 10
Philomena is an interesting film on many accounts. There are many things done well, but it seemingly failed in the thing it worked hardest to accomplish: preach forgiveness and forbid hate.
The film is charming, I’ll give it that. The comedy is cute and pretty funny for the most part. It does a good job in balancing out the tragedy of the movie with funny moments. Every unfortunate thing that happens is countered with a joke or two that prevents the audience from getting too depressed, which is relevant considering how sad this story can be. Judi Dench plays Philomena with a loving, yet sweet old lady persona. She is what helps to create the necessary balance between the sad moments and the hilarious moments. She is the center of tragedy throughout most of the film, but still manages to spit out humorous lines and phrases every once in a while. Her whole personality and tendencies were all very cute, but she still managed to be very likable.
The screenplay is also well written. I haven’t read the book, but the whole movie feels pretty realistic. The tone of the film isn’t too one-sided (meaning it’s not too happy or not too sad), which contributes to its realism. It isn’t a necessarily happy ending, more so a realistic one. The story is intriguing and something any audience would want to sympathize with. Everyone wants to know what happens. Everyone wants to see Philomena get her happy ending, to reunite with her son, and for everyone to be happy again. It’s a well written screenplay, clear through its ability to evoke these feelings.
Now, while Steve Coogan may have written the screenplay very well, I was not impressed with his character. I thought that overall, his character didn’t grow as much as he could have or as much as he should have. Throughout the film he was angry, and in the end, it was no different. The film ended with him angry at the nuns, and the resolution feels unresolved, to be frank. If Martin has learned, it doesn’t really show in his character. Maybe he’s become less bitter, but it was sincerely hard for me to tell if Martin changed as a person. It’s tough for me to come to any other conclusion without seeing a drastic change. And I’m honestly not one of those people who is so critical about character development, but since the growth in the characters is so important for this movie, I have no choice but to pick it apart. Martin’s lack of development kind of just feels like the movie didn’t actually come to a conclusive ending.
The biggest criticism I can present to this film is how it feels like a huge attack on the Catholic religion, and manipulates and utilizes emotions to exploit the hate. Up until the beginning till the end, the Catholic religion is viewed as evil and the hero is Philomena and her morality. How she refuses to sink, and remains hopeful and maintains her loyalty to God. It’s hard to get much out of this film when it’s just an emphatic attack on religion. I’m not the most religious guy in the world, but even I can tell you; this is just unnecessary and takes away too much of the focus on other aspects of the story.
Overall, this film is alright, but nothing more. It does have a few solid things going for it, but its hypocrisy—how it preaches against hate, then turns around and fuels it towards Catholicism—causes me to look upon Philomena with a frown.
9 out of 10
To what degree do you know your family?
That is a question that may seem very, very easy to answer at first but really think about it. But pick a relative and delve into everything you know about them and you may find surprisingly little. Now, imagine that person was estranged from your immediate family and then try again. It gets hundreds of times harder. Philomena focuses on a lot of things but it mostly focuses on family roles. Specifically, it shows that some relatives are jigsaws waiting to be solved and, if you are very lucky, you might solve some puzzles that your character offers.
Last week, I mentioned how one of the main categories of contender that turns up every year in the Academy Awards is the ingenious fiction or non-fiction story; one that somebody should have thought of at one point but never did. Philonema was a great story that was hidden in a dark niche somewhere like the majority of great historical stories do. In fact, most get lost in the mix of personal stories out there. To Hollywood, these types of stories must be a dime-a-dozen.
But (Not unlike Dallas Buyers Club) I am very glad when a movie like this (A non-fiction piece like this) wins the Mainstream Lottery and gets to surface. Historical stories, biographies and memoirs all bring events to alienated events to life. Sure, we know a lot about the working class of the 20th century but we hardly know about the individuals who made it up and their story. Moreover, if its effective enough, we should see reflections of modern problems.
And that’s where family comes in in Philomena, Judi Dench and Steve Coogan are expected to guide us through a half-century journey in a runtime that amounts to a little less than The Lego Movie (For future reference, my pick for the 2015 Academy Awards. No joke.) and, as expected of these all-stars, they keep it believable and mature the relationship between the two main characters. Arguably, the story deals with Sixsmith and Lee’s increasing dedication to the subject of Lee’s kid as much as anything.
One of the hardest things one can do is uncover a loved-one’s character and Philomena undeniably acknowledges that. It keeps to one story for its entirety and doesn’t look back whatsoever. One of the few complaints about the film is that its just one more criticism of Catholicism launched by filmmakers and, while it may seem that way in general, I don’t think it holds much water. Religion is a wide topic that’s very popular to deal with. Its all over history so many films are bound to deal with it at some point.
Otherwise, while its main characters are very multidimensional, there’s a feeling of emptiness whenever there aren’t too many supporting characters. In that sense, it isn’t as concerned on its characters as it is its theme but its ideas are able to hold it up.
Philomena hasn’t succeeded any of the nominees so far for me but it’s a fine addition to the 2013-14 season.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%