Sunday, February 16, 2014

Philomena Review

When Philomena came to theaters for the first time towards the end of last year, I acknowledged its existence, but it didn't catch my attention enough for me to immediately go out and see it. However, I kept hearing more and more Oscar buzz for it, and when the Oscar nominations came out last month my immediate reaction was that I needed to see Philomena. It had just received four Oscar nominations, including best picture and best actress. Recently I repented of my sin of skipping this movie, and it's a good thing I did because this is quite the gem of a movie. And yes, the "repented of my sin" mention in the last sentence was indeed a play on one of the big themes in this movie.

So if you've never heard of Philomena (pronounced phil-oh-mee-nuh), the first question you'll have is what in the world is a Philomena? The answer to that is that it's not a what, she's a who. Philomena Lee to be exact. And she's not just a fictional character in a movie, she's an actual person that this movie is based on. I don't know her real story, but in the movie Philomena has a son out of wedlock as a teenager. Living in a nun-house in Ireland, the nuns were upset at Philomena for this serious sin she had committed. As part of her punishment, she was forced by the nuns to put her son up for adoption. She kept this part of her life secret for a very long time, not even telling her children. Finally after 50 years, she reveals this secret and her story is immediately picked up by journalist Martin Sixsmith. Together they go on a journey to find more information about her lost son. Whatever the actual events were, Martin Sixsmith ended up turning this story into a book published in 2009. And no, that's not spoiling the movie. That book is what this movie is based off of.

What makes this film a real interesting film is the many different themes and issues it brings up. On top of that is the classic moral dilemma of right vs wrong. Philomena is heavily criticized by the nuns by her having a child out of wedlock, so they punish her harshly and essentially take away her son. Philomena is ashamed by this for a long time, so she keeps it a secret. But then she begins to think that keeping it a secret is a great sin. After Martin gets involved and learns about all this, he begins to believe that Philomena was greatly wronged by the nuns and the Catholic church. He even question whether or not her initial sin was even wrong at all. Then with this comes the religious themes in the movie. Philomena believes in God. Martin does not. The two of them get into this discussion several times during the movie. And of course with this theme comes the perception of the Catholic church in the movie, which is an unfavorable view to say the least. And of course, there are discussions that arise when they find information about the son, but I won't get into those. Lots of things to think about with this movie.

Judi Dench plays Philomena in the movie and her performance is excellent. Dench is no stranger to the Academy Awards as this nomination brings her total to seven nominations in 17 years, her first Oscar nomination coming in 1998 with the movie Mrs. Brown. This is a rather impressive resume she has built up. Out of the seven nominations she has only one once. Although her performance won't be good enough for her second win, the nomination is definitely deserved in my opinion. Alongside Dench, Steve Coogan deserves praise for this as a played a triple role in the film's production as writer, producer, and co-star of Judi Dench, playing the journalist Martin Sixsmith. Another part of the movie that I really enjoyed was the music. Alexandre Desplat did the score of the movie and it is rather excellent. This excellence in music has been acknowledged by the Academy as Desplat has earned his sixth Oscar nomination in eight years.

Overall, I would say that Philomena is a very enjoyable film with interesting themes and excellent performances by Dench and Coogan. Is it good enough to win any of the four nominations it was given? Unless it picks up the best adapted screenplay, probably not. It's not one of the best movies nominated for best picture, but I won't complain at its nomination. It was a very enjoyable film that I highly recommend you give a shot. I give the movie an 8.5/10.

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