Jun 12, 2015

[Movies] Philomena (2013)

Like many people, I've come to love watching movies featuring Dame Judi Dench she is such a skilled and rather delightful actress. In her older years there seem to be certain role archetypes that she tends to get cast in, but despite that you never quite get the same performance from her in each movie.

I wasn't sure what to make of Philomena when I saw that she was part of the cast. It was a movie that didn't seem to have made much of an impact during its initial release, but then I suppose that's a natural consequence of how our local theaters favorite American movies more than any other. Alas.

The movie itself was a little odd. It had a somewhat lighter tone to it in general, but it was also rather serious given the nature of the story. I wouldn't go as far as calling it a comedy drama - it was definitely more serious than laugh out loud funny. But at the same time, humor in this part the world has less to do with slapstick and more to do with quirky situations that might may you smirk or softly chuckle at best.

Synopsis: Philomena is 2013 drama movie directed by Stephen Frears. The screenplay was written by Steven Coogan and Jeff Pope based on the real life story of Philomena Lee.

We first meet a journalist named Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who has lost his job as a government adviser due to a recent media scandal. In the hopes of finding something to do with his new free time, he considers writing a book about Russian history, although his friends and colleagues aren't exactly encouraging him to pursue this idea. One thing leads to another and he is introduced to Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) and her story.

As a young girl, Philomena managed to get pregnant with a young man at a fair and her father sends her to Sean Ross Abbey in Ireland to get through her pregnancy. It was a difficult birth but both Philomena and the baby survive and Philomena then works at the convent's laundry. Like the other young women there, she would get only an hour a day with her baby given the fact that all the babies at the convent were essentially born in sin. But one day she finds that her son had already been given up for adoption by the sisters before she could even say goodbye. Now in her old age, she finally reveals to her family that she has been searching for her lost son for years and they decide to enlist Martin's help to use his connections as a journalist to find the child.

Now why the heck would a term a drama to be somewhat comedic? Well I suppose it mostly has to do with Philomena as a character herself. Despite this tragedy that had happened to her so many years ago, she's quite the delightful and rather curious individual. The journey to find her son also involves her traveling to places she has never been to and she is honestly excited to see new sights and experience new things despite the somewhat somber reason for the story.

Steve Coogan clearly wanted this movie to happen given his diverse participation in things. However his actual performance seemed a little understated almost at the risk of being a little flat. I can't speak to how accurate a portrayal of the original journalist that was, but it seemed a little sad in comparison to Judi Dench. And maybe this added to my genre confusion - since he wasn't too strong, Dench became even more prominent and her general jovial nature dominated the tone of the movie.

You can't really say much about the story since it was inspired by true events. I mean seriously, I did feel that there could have been more to the story to make other moments more entertaining or intriguing, but then that feels like telling a person to have a more interesting life. It just doesn't work that way. And since I wasn't too familiar with her story before the movie, I can't look at this from the perspective of accuracy or even potential controversy.

Instead I look at Philomena based on its own merits and it seems like a plain enough story with one phenomenal actress. Dame Judi Dench is as amazing as she always is but the rest of the movie seemed almost somber in comparison. And so can only rate the movie as 3.5 cutting quotes from Philomena out of 5. And yes, I acknowledge that critics loved the movie and it got a good number of awards and other nominations as well.

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