Movie Review: Philomena

Philomena2Philomena has just about everything you would expect from a drama that is based on a true story: inspirational moments, photos of the real people in the credits, and British people. More than anything, Philomena is an Oscar movie. 

I wanted to hate Philomena, which probably says more about me than the state of the industry. However I could not bring myself to hate Philomena, because it takes what it has and completely owns it.

Philomena, which is co-written by Steve Coogan, comes with a script filled with dry wit. Coogan also stars as Martin Sixsmith, a sad sack who at best has the personality of Wesley Snipes from 30 Rock. Sixsmith begins in a doctor’s office, asking if there is anything wrong with him. It sounds like a standard question, but from the look on his face, it is as if he is begging the doctor to tell him that there is something wrong with him.

Well, Sixsmith is having a rough time. He is fired from his job as a government advisor over a comment that he didn’t even make. Now, he is thinking of returning to work as a journalist. The best he can find in that field is a gig writing human-interest stories. Sixsmith looks down at human-interest stories. You see, Martin is about as insufferable and pretentious as P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks.

Lead characters do not have to be likable; they just have to be interesting. Sixsmith is a bit of a wet blanket and he tries to be as removed as any journalist should be. Luckily, he has an interesting sidekick. Sixsmith is assigned to write a story about Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an elderly Irish woman who is on a journey to find her son, who was taken from her when he was a baby. So, Martin accompanies her on her journey to find out where her son might be. The journey takes them from Ireland to rural England to Washington D.C.

Philomena is a road trip movie in which there is absolutely no sexual tension between the man and the woman involved. Now, that takes restraint. The film was sold as a drama but that does not give justice to the humorous heart at the center of it all. I mean, there is a scene where Philomena just wants to watch Big Momma’s House on the hotel television. That is about as close as any Martin Lawrence drag comedy will ever get to being nominated for an Oscar.

The best reason to watch Philomena is for Judi Dench, who is England’s Meryl Streep, as you know she will be great in it just because of the mere fact that she is in it. Luckily, Dench doesn’t phone it in. She can be both funny and serious whenever it is necessary. She makes old lady racism seem more fun than hostile. For instance, when she tells a Mexican chef “you must love nachos,” it sounds more like a statement made out of genuine curiosity than out of hatred. Despite her age, Philomena is still amazed by everything, and her curiosity fuels her journey to unravel the mystery about her son.

Some of the best moments in the film come when Dench and Coogan are arguing about hot topics such as sex and religion. Never in a million years would I have thought that the one of the best cinema couples with no sexual tension at all would be Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. This is essentially what makes the film funny.

In the end, it sort of seems like Philomena should not work. It drags and lags at certain parts but in the end, as Philomena herself says, it all comes full circle. Maybe there are some details in the story that they could have gone into more depth on, but once the credits roll around, you feel like Philomena said everything it had to say. Philomena shows that you can make an Oscar-baiting film that is actually enjoyable to watch.

Brain Farts From The Edge:

  • I would like to see Philomena from Philomena and Kate Grant (June Squibb) from Nebraska get together for a spin-off where they go on another road trip. That would be so cool.
  • Dear Martin Sxismith: As The Dude would say, “you’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole.”
  • Speaking of which, this film seems partly like an argument as to why atheists can be kind of sort of completely annoying to engage in conversation.
  • In terms of forgiving the people who caused her so much grief in her life, Philomena is like the Nelson Mandela of white Irish Catholic single mothers.
  • Yup, nuns still terrify me.
  • The only element of Philomena that was just a little too overwrought here was the music. Come on, Stephen Frears, you directed High Fidelity. No one would be angry if you used some more lively music.
  • Come on, spellcheck, recognize the spelling for “Philomena.” She’s a nice lady.
  • The poster for Philomena looks like the first draft of a poster for a Drew Barrymore rom-com: