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Philomena

What She said:

She

Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) was a political advisor for former Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair. He was recently fired from his job. I don’t know how much of this is true, but the movie implies that he was made a scapegoat for a scandal involving others around him. 

I really knew very little about this movie before I went ahead and rented it.  I was operating under the assumption that it was a decent movie because the critics said so, but I had only a very vague understanding of the plot of the film.  I actually thought it was a feel good comedy.  While there are some genuinely funny moments in Philomena, the film is more of a drama, which is very well-written, and thusly powerful.  It has a heavy subject matter, but turned out to be a very valuable rental.

Philomena

So, here's your basic plot outline, just so you don't approach the film as clueless as I was.  Philomena Lee is an older Irish lady who has had a pretty fulfilling life.  She has a loyal daughter, and seems to live comfortably.  However, Philomena had a very rough past.  She got pregnant at a young age and was therefore sent by her father to live in a convent and put her son up for adoption.  The Catholic sisters would place Philomena's son in a good home in exchange for four years of servitude from her.  Even though she is attached to her son, Anthony, he is eventually given to an American family, and Philomena never sees him again.

Fast-forward 50 years, and Philomena has finally told her daughter about her long lost son.  Her daughter thinks it would be a great subject for an investigative article or book, and so she approaches disgraced and struggling journalist, Martin Sixsmith with the idea. Initially, Martin is not interested.  He simply does not do human interest stories, but he also knows that the Russian history book he’s looking to write will likely not be popular.  So Martin and Philomena, a truly unlikely pair, team up to find Philomena's long lost son.  With little to go on, they dig up leads, and eventually find themselves halfway across the world.  But are they too late?

Philomena

Philomena is based on a true story.  It's both heartwarming and heartbreaking, and superbly written.  Those easily offended, particularly Catholics, will not like how the church is portrayed, but the film does manage to tread lightly on the topic.  Philomena has a heart of gold, and Judy Dench is marvelous as the title character.  Steve Coogan plays Martin, and he's also superb.  He's not particularly likeable — a jerk through and though — but he learns a thing or two and grows a little along the way.

The film deals with a lot of hot button issues such as turmoil within the Catholic church, personal identity, the meaning of family, and homosexual/HIV divisiveness.  It seems to take pretty clear stances on all these issues, and you may not agree with them, but I found the movie well done to the point where I had to respect the views of the writers.

I commented that this film is more a drama than a comedy, and it is, but there are also some brutally funny moments.  Philomena has a sharp wit about her that comes from left field and will knock you out of your chair.  She's actually really great like that.  In fact, I see qualities in her that I hope I will have when I'm her age.

I liked this movie, 'nuff said.  It's not perfect, but it's interesting and well done overall.

Thumbs up.

Philomena

What He said:

He

Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) was a political advisor for former Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair. He was recently fired from his job. I don’t know how much the real life events , the guy could be a major ass hole for all I know, but this movie claims that he was made the scapegoat for his superior’s actions.
As a result, he takes work when he can. He’s sort of a journalist, sort of an author, but always looking for steady work. One night while at a party, he is approached by one of the staff. After some chit chat, she discovers he’s a journalist. She tells him about her mother, Philomena (Judi Dench).

Philomena has recently confessed that he has another child. A boy that she was forced to give up for adoption because she got pregnant out of wedlock; which was pretty much the worst thing you could do back in those days. Because of her predicament, Philomena was sent to a convent in Roscrea (a small market town in Ireland).  They helped with the birth, put her to work (for four years), and place her child in a home.

Over the course of the next fifty years, all while keeping the existence of this child a secret, Philomena would check in with the convent to find out if they are able to tell her more about her son Anthony. The convent repeatedly tells her they are unable to help her. She hopes that bringing Martin along will get something out of the nuns who run the place, but it makes no difference. If anything, their refusal to help has gotten stronger. This time they claim there was a massive fire that has burnt down all of the adoption records, but as Martin points out they conveniently seem to have the records that support their claims, yet all of the paperwork that can help Philomena track Anthony down is gone.

Philomena

The only thing Martin and Philomena are able to conclude is that Anthony was adopted by an American couple, whose names they also discovered. That pretty much sets up the rest of the story. The movie is a tale of a rather unlikely pair, you could even call them the odd couple, trying to find out the whereabouts of a mystery man.

And boy are they the odd couple. Martin is a journalist who has dabbled in politics. He’s been all over the world. I don’t think Philomena has ever traveled anywhere that isn’t within driving distance. She thinks everything she comes across is neat. The airport, the fancy hotel they stay in (she’s particularly taken with the make your own omelet station in the restaurant), or the city of Washington D.C. itself. She’s enamored with the whole thing. In her mind, she’s on an adventure. Martin is used to all of this of course and not as amused by the whole thing as Philomena. Despite her experiences, she’s also a devout Catholic, while Martin is a non-believer; and a fairly militant one at that.

This is a really solid, well-rounded movie. It’s funny, emotional, deals with controversial topics (both religion and politics), and relationships. This movie has a little bit of everything. I don’t get psyched for dramas. Even when they are good movies , I rarely seek them out again. But this is the kind of drama that I could watch again. Sometimes I watch a drama and think, “Well that was good, but I’ll never watch that again.”  I would watch this again. I don’t know the right words, but I feel like I’m being taken on a journey when I watch a movie like this. it’s an interesting and engaging story that keeps your attention.

This is all possible because of the performances by the two leads. Not only did Judi Dench and Steve Coogan play their roles well, they had wonderful chemistry with one another. Judi Dench is really funny at times too. The character goes through a lot and it’s not easy on her, but she comes out with some zingers at times too. She comes off a little timid and like a bit of a pushover at times, but don’t let that fool you, she’ll let you know if your out of line.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on May 11, 2014.

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