Sunday 26 January 2014

Film Review: Philomena

A Best Picture-nominated dramedy starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, Philomena is a touching and heartfelt film driven by two fantastic lead performances and a great story that deals with themes of love, loss and forgiveness.

Based on the 2009 investigative book, 'The Lost Child of Philomena Lee', Philomena tells the story of an Irish lady searching for her long-lost son, whom she conceived out of wedlock whilst under the care of Catholic nuns. Made to give her son up for adoption, Philomena (Judi Dench) keeps the secret of her first child secret for 50 years before deciding to recruit the help of disgraced BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) in the search for her son.

The first thing you notice about Philomena, is the delicate balance of heart-wrenching emotional moments and laughs. There are some scenes where the film gets kind of dark, what with all the lying, child-snatching nuns and all. The film alleviates this by ensuring two leads, Dench and Coogan, share some comic interplay and banter.

Without the charismatic and likeable leads, Philomena wouldn't have connected with the audience in the same way. It would have felt all too generic and ho-hum. Instead, Dench is fantastic and loveable as the little Irish old-lady who longs to discover the life her child led.

Some may think that the film strays too far into 'fish-out-of-water' comedy territory at some points, and whilst I found the humour alleviated the sadness of the films opening half-an-hour, I tend to agree. When the duo set foot in America, the film swerves into full-blown comedy road-trip mode, where Philomena (the character) fawns over having mints on her pillow and Mexican omelette chefs.

The highlight of the movie was without a doubt Steve Coogan's wry, cynical journalist character Martin. His character has a lot more depth than you would think, his unforgiving nature and desire to expose the truth making him a really interesting contrast to Philomena's wholesome Christian values.

The film recognises this, and purposely contrasts the two characters against one another to emphasise the films message of forgiveness. Coogan's performance hasn't been getting as much buzz as Dench's, but personally I think it should be. He was really, really good, and displayed great range.

Whilst Philomena was good, I don't think it is Best Picture quality. It made me think and laugh at the time, it didn't stay with me for as long as something like Gravity or American Hustle. The film suffered from not knowing what to aim for, whether it was going to be a comedy, a drama or both.

The Verdict: 7/10

Given the serious subject matter, Philomena must be commended for not getting bogged down in sad, God-hating quandaries through its deft comedic touch; the two leads are likeable and funny, with a striking contrast that drives home the films message . However, the film does lack a consistent tone, swinging between 'road-trip' style comedy and serious thought-provoking ethical drama, something which may irk some.

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