One part investigative journalism, one part a story of a mother looking for her son, Philomena tells a true story of love, loss and faith. Starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, the movie tells the true-story of Philomena Lee whose son was taken from her 50 years ago, and Martin Sixsmith, a troubled journalist who helps her find him. You can watch the trailer after the jump and then read my review.
My first thought after the credits started rolling was “wow that was depressing.” And it is. This is a dark movie, both in story and in atmosphere. The sun doesn’t shine for one second in this movie, it’s always cloudy and dark. It’s very off putting, but given the subject matter, the right choice. Director Stephen Frears, best known for 2006’s The Queen, tells this story in the only way it could. Which leaves me in a difficult place.
On one hand, I was genuinely curious with the investigation. As Philomena and Martin begin to uncover who her son is, it feels like any detective story piecing it together. And the way the clues unveil themselves is exciting. On the other hand, there is a secondary story where Martin is supposed to discover his faith which was confusing and didn’t really lead to anything. See, Philomena was a nun when her son was born and it is the convent that put him up for adoption without her permission. So she is subtly dropping hints that Martin should pray and he ignores her. That’s about it.
I think the reason I didn’t like this movie as much as most people is because I’m not the target demographic. My sister was the only one younger than me in the whole theater. It was all people closer to Judi Dench’s age than mine. People who have children, especially children who have grown up and left them, probably sympathize with Philomena more and enjoyed this movie. The son’s reveal is not the end of the movie but since the mystery was the only interesting part, I just wanted it to end.
Judi Dench does save the movie for sure. AT 79, she is still going strong on screen and this is no different. I’m not sure if the real Philomena is like this, but Dench’s interpretation is both naive and brave. She doesn’t know much about the world outside Ireland, which leads to a couple jokes. But her determination to find out about her son, 50 years after he was taken from her, is fascinating. Some of the discoveries about her son could break most moms but she is calm and determined the whole time.
Steve Coogan on the other hand, isn’t a dramatic actor. He’s funny in most of his other roles but when called upon to play a struggling journalist looking for work, it didn’t translate well. But this is his pet project. He also co-wrote the script and has been trying to get this movie made for years. So he was bound to star. And he looks the part I guess. I can’t really think of another British actor right now who would give a better performance. Maybe David Thewlis from Harry Potter. I have to give credit to Coogan for trying something new.
All in all, Philomena is for a very specific audience, of which I am not. It is a high quality film that I just lost interest in once the main story was wrapped up. I don’t know if it really deserved a best picture nomination, but it does have a lot of things Oscar voters like. The real Philomena has been campaigning hard for it. And it does feature a great performance from Judi Dench. That always catches the voters’ attention.
This review probably doesn’t sound as definitive as usual. Because I am still not sure what I think of it. My recommendation is this. If you had already wanted to see this, go ahead and see what you think. And if it looked boring to you, you are right and can skip it. It’s that decisive of a movie.