The best thing, worst thing, and main thing about “Philomena” in about the time it takes to watch the trailer. Don’t forget, first person to guess my “Best Ever Challenge” gets the point!
Sometimes you can feel the emotion building. Other times it catches you completely by surprise.
“Philomena” is the true story of an Irish woman whose child born out of wedlock was taken and given away by the catholic church, and what happens 50 years later when she decides she wants to find him with the help of a BBC investigator. The movie deftly touches on themes of love, grace, faith, humanity, and forgiveness all while never losing it’s momentum or it’s well placed sense of of humor. Make no mistake “Philomena” is an incredibly powerful tale and it’s told very very well here.
Of course much of this is due to the amazing performances by our leads. Steve Coogan, who also wrote and produced the thing, is almost note perfect as the beleaguered and often cynical newsman looking only for a story but finding some of his humanity as well, and Judi Dench is stunning as this woman of simple faith who just wants to know what happened to her son. The interplay between the two on topics such as religion, morality, sex, and love are pitch perfect, giving us in one second big smiles and laughs and in the very next gut wrenching emotion. There were at least three moments when I was completely caught off guard by how moved I was, as the plot revealed itself to me in exactly the way the story needed it to. One of those moments, and my best thing, was Philomena’s final act, by which I don’t just mean the final moments of the movie, but literally the characters final decision, which I won’t give away here, but was executed with such beauty that I found myself giving in to that pesky liquid gathering at the corner of my eyes.
Honestly, If I had to call the movie into question for anything, and apparently I do, since I need a worst thing, it would have to be the cynicism it employed in dealing with the Catholic Church. Not that Philomena’s situation didn’t call for some appropriate righteous anger, but the movie seemed to paint Catholics with a pretty broad brush. Of course much of that is counteracted by the fact that Philomena herself maintains her own Catholicism and talks about being a devoted Catholic herself. So as a negative its certainly a slight one.
In the end “Philomena” is one of the most powerful stories I’ve seen told on screen this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it land on many people’s 2013 best of lists including my own. Even if a little extra Catholic cynicism peeks through the cracks, Coogan and Dench are so nuanced and wonderful it’s hardly worth mentioning. Philomena ends with an A.
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