Philomena (2013)

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Philomena falls neatly into that genre of British films that takes a serious subject and makes it feel all light and fluffy and inoffensively funny. Based on a true story of a woman whose child was stolen and sold by nuns 50 years earlier (hilarious!), Philomena frequently shifts between heavy-handed and humorous, mostly seamlessly. Judi Dench plays the title character, an adorable devout Catholic in search of the son that was taken from her by some ladies who are married to God. Steve Coogan joins in the fun as Martin Sixsmith, the journalist who helps her on this journey and is often a real prick about it. But we like him. We know he'll come around.

There's an overarching theme of forgiveness that is the real heart of the film. The matter of how differently people can react to the arrogance and hurtfulness of others is handled largely without judgment, one of the stronger attributes of the movie. Through the characters of Philomena and Martin, we see these differing viewpoints and we're able to understand them both. At times, the film does lean a bit heavily on the Faith Is Good message, but it manages to find some balance as we see Philomena break down in a confessional. Though to be fair, I'm not sure hearing Paul Giamatti's voice on the other side would compel me to confess my sins, either.

I'd like to end this with a thank you to the wind for doing such a number on Steve Coogan in those running shorts. It was fine work. Fine, fine work. Nobody needs forgiveness for that.


You know that feeling you get when "Ebony and Ivory" comes on the radio, and you kind of laugh to yourself because it's maybe the sweetest song about racial integration ever made? And it's brave for trying, and Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney deserve an "A" for "effort" but, like, a "D" for "execution", because at the end of the day, it's just a pretty crap song. But then you're afraid to tell people that you think it's crap because then maybe that makes you seem like a racist, so you just go with it and kind of laude it when it comes up in conversation because, yeah, Stevie and Paul are awesome on their own, so they're super-awesome when they sing together, and you're cool with people of all skin colors. That's kind of how I feel about Philomena.

I saw Philomena on November 6th of this year, and I haven't really given it a moments thought since. Let's play a game called "Jarrod Tries to Remember What A Movie Is About Without the Help of Wikipedia", shall we? Philomena tells the tale of Philomena Lee, an old lady who seeks to find her son who was put up for adoption without her consent. There's something about, like, a convent here, and how Philomena is sent to one because she got pregnant and probably embarrassed her family. Enter Martin Sixsmith (I looked that up), a writer who used to work in a high profile government job, but is fired and sets out to become a journalist. He hears Philomena's story and seeks to help her locate her son, in hopes of writing a really great story about it. And they do it. They do locate her son. In America, no less. And this is where I stop. This has really gone on for long enough. There are surprises, like when we find out our little Philomena Lee is liberal. There are a lot of little things like that in the film's second act, as Philomena becomes the sweetest song (movie) about the nature of forgiveness ever made.

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan are pretty fun in the lead roles in this movie, kind of a different spin on the traditional "road trip twosome". That's neat. The script is pretty funny sometimes, and pretty serious in the last 15 pages or so. There's yelling, if that's your thing. Your grandma might like Philomena, your Mom almost certainly will. This is probably a good movie to bring home for Thanksgiving.

This nomination would have been better filled by Blue Jasmine. I think we would have looked back on that decision a little more positively in the future. "Ebony and Ivory" went to # 1 in nine countries back in 1982. Blender magazine recently named it the 10th worst song of all time. AOL Radio named it the 9th worst. BBC 6 listeners recently dubbed it the worst duet of all time. Let's see how it holds up.


Philomena is the story of an elderly Irish woman who decides to seek out her long lost son who was given up for adoption by nuns who had taken her in as a pregnant teen. This is a truly heartbreaking tale that could have easily been made into a predictable formulaic charmer, but instead manages to continuously lead us through interesting little turns as we uncover the mysteries of Philomena's son and the convent of her adolescence.

This is one of Dame Judi Dench's best roles. She plays such a delightful and endearingly simple spirit with an interesting balance of naiveté and surprising worldly knowledge. Steve Coogan is always fun to watch. Here, he plays the journalist helping Philomena to figure out her son's mysteries and completes a brilliant double act alongside the Dame.

Despite the great acting and intriguing storyline, the film feels mild, even dull at times. Perhaps this is partly due to random inserts of old footage of Philomena's son growing up. In a way this footage adds richness, but the clips all seem disjointed and slow the pace of the film which already moves at quite a moderate pace.