Everyone has a unique story to their name, yet most people shy away from telling it. Whether it be out of shame or the urge to suppress a dark memory, most people keep their life defining secrets to themselves. It’s only when their secret is revealed, that we get a sense for who they are as a person and what their life has been like. Some of these stories are so incredible, that you may read about them in the paper, or hear about them on the news. Typically, they tend to be inspirational ones, but no story comes without emotion.
Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) grew up in a monastery where she was raised by strict nuns (redundant?) and taught not to sin. When Philomena is impregnated by a young man, she pays for her sins by having the birth without pain medicine and gives birth to her baby son, Antony. At the age of three, Antony is adopted by an American couple and ripped away from Philomena’s life. On what would be Antony’s 50th birthday, Philomena tells her daughter Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin) of her incredible story, which Jane sees as an opportunity to help find out where Antony is.
Jane seeks out the help of Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a recently canned employee of the BBC and a struggling journalist. When prompted to do a human interest piece, Martin reluctantly agrees to aid Philomena in her search. After uncovering some horrible secretes at the monastery, Martin and Philomena head to America to search for Antony. The whole time, Philomena can’t help but wonder what happened to her baby son and how he has turned out. While at first in it for the story, Martin grows to like Philomena and genuinely wants to help her find her son, regardless of the story. The two’s adventure leads them on a winding path filled with comedy and tragedy that will everyone by surprise.
Philomena is a lovely little film that sure knows how to warm your heart. Dame Judi Dench gives a splendid performance as the title character, and co-writer and co-lead Steve Coogan knocks it out of the park. The chemistry between the two is delightful and the journey that they embark on is sure to move audiences. With some great direction from Stephen Frears, Philomena makes for a lovely hour-and-a-half escape from your life, as you take in the intriguing life of a woman who actually went through all of this.
Judi Dench will garner all the attention for this film and maybe even a nomination, as well. Her portrayal of this sweet old woman, whom is tormented by her past, is very good. Her lack of pop culture references or even most jokes makes her all the more adorable when she doesn’t understand something. Dench’s best work in the film comes out in the more emotional scenes, when Philomena defends the Nuns and the church and ultimately forgives them for their actions. It takes a stronger man or woman than I to do something like that, and that’s what makes her so special. She has love for everyone and she still has the good nature to see the best in even the worst of people.
Steve Coogan, who I believe will be cast into Dench’s shadow, is simply hilarious in this film. I’m a big fan of his work and he seems as if he’s on top of his game for Philomena, acting and writing wise. His atheist character challenges Dench’s belief and respect for the church that sold her son, and his journalistic approach to matters makes him very interesting to watch. His sly humor and subtle remarks allot for many laughs and prolonged chuckles here-and-there. Martin, as a character, develops very well over the course of the film and his friendship with Philomena only makes the film more enjoyable.
While I may have left the theater smiling and enjoying this film, there were a few problems that I had with it. For one, the film rushes through the story very quickly. You’re in and out of the theater in an hour-and-a-half, so the stories progression never stops. Characters and subplots are thrown to the side to advance the story. I also didn’t find myself too emotionally invested in this film. I got sad and happy during a few moments, but other than that, I didn’t feel too much of anything else. The levels of sadness and happiness that I felt were nothing monumental and I think that the film could have played with emotions better. This is a true story that, given a longer runtime and more depth, could have affected audiences in a bigger way.
More than anything, Philomena made me appreciate Judi Dench and Steve Coogan even more. All these talented Brits always manage to make marvelous films and I wish that we got more of them over here. The comedy and drama are on point and the story told is a very unique one. I enjoyed every minute of the film, I just wish that there was more in terms of quality AND quantity. Regardless, Philomena is a lovely time at the movies and is a film that will leave you smiling; I guarantee that much!