Here it is, my final Best Picture 2014 nominee film review…and of course I’m writing it hours before the 86th Academy Awards air on my home television screen. What else would you expect from me? I’m a perpetual procrastinator…a piece of my personality I’m starting to combat (not so successfully I might add), but the effort I’m making to accomplish these reviews before finding out this year’s award-winners is worth appluading, right? RIGHT?! (Cue Lady Gaga’s ‘Applause’ now, please!)
Enough about my procrastination. ‘Philomena’ is an incredibly touching film. Starring dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, I knew very little about this film outside of a short synopsis I quickly read on the Marcus Theatre website before heading to the theater. At times I felt sickened, at time I laughed really hard, and other times I scratched my head trying to understand what was going on in these characters’ heads. Yet again, another Best Picture nominee that left me reeling at despite how far the world has come, we really have much farther to go.
‘Philomena’ is based on the true story of a young Irish girl (Philomena) who was forced to live in a convent after becoming pregnant outside of marriage. Living in the convent, the unwed mothers were only allowed to see their illegitamate children for an hour a day while they worked in laundry, cleaning, gardening, etc…At the same time, these children were often sold to American couples at a moment’s notice. The mothers were not told, and were also not given a chance to say good-bye to their sons and daughters before leaving with their new families. Such is the case with Philomena. as fate would have it, a weary political journalist, Martin Sixsmith, would have some downtime and the two cross paths. Martin and Philomena set out on the journey of a lifetime to find out what happened to Philomena’s son, Anthony.
Judi Dench is at her absolute beset as Philomena. Equal parts naive and beyond-wise in her years, Dench fills Philomena with a heart so incredibly big, especially given everything her life has thrown at her. It’s refreshing to see Dench in a role I can only describe as soft when compared to the last few things I’ve watched her in, like ‘James Bond’ as M., and the Queen in ‘Shakespeare in Love’. Never once do you see “Judi Dench”. It’s all Philomena Lee on that screen. GIven what has befallen Philomena in her life, she is never once filled with bitterness or hatred. That alone is remarkable.
I’m not entirely familiar with Steve Coogan and his work (except as a philandering cheater in ‘My Idiot Brother’), but he brings the balance to our two main characters. Martin Sixsmith never fails to sarcastically point the flaws in Phiolmena’s demeaner or make fun of her for being “too gracious” to everyone around her, but he comes through in the end. Watch ‘Philomena’ all the way through the end, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
At the root of ‘Philomena’ is a heart-warming story of no matter where we go in lives, when love touches us, it stays with us no matter where we end up. Here are my Top 10 favorite moments of ‘Philomena’: (READER BEWARE! SPOILERS MAY LAY AHEAD!)
1.) Watching Judi Dench go crazy over croutons at the salad bar
2.) Philomena’s elaborate retellings of what a book is about
3.) Martin Sixsmith’s beer of choice every time: Guiness
4.) Philomena’s silent return to the two spots she stood the last time she saw her son
5.) The split-second decision to change Philomena’s mind upon hearing the “fizzy drinks” on board were free
6.) Philomena striking up a conversation with the hotel Mexican omelette maker
7.) The use of real home video footage of the real Philomena Lee’s son
8.) The nonchalant way Philomena accepts hearing that her son waa gay. (“He was such a sensitive boy. I sort of suspected it.)
9.) Martin Sixsmith coming to Philomena’s defense against the convent sisters
10.) Martin calling Philomena “Mum” in front of the porter boy when she refused to answer her hotel room door or pick up the phone
Upon a little research, I discovered Steve Coogan wrote the screenplay for ‘Philomena’ and I’m pleasantly surprised at the deftness of which he handled this sensitive story. It easily could have fallen into melodrama, and there are a few times when I thought that’s exactly where the story was going, but thankfully, it doesn’t. The pain of Philomena’s story is gripping, and I can only imagine what she felt on a day-to-day basis as she lived with this secret for, what, 40 years? It was a ridiculously long amount of time to keep something to so big so silent.
Perhaps the way the film ties everything together in the end is a touch cliche, but it leaves the viewer with closure. With a story like this, closure is something we all need upon leaving the theater.