Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark
Director: Stephen Frears
Screenplay: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope, Martin Sixsmith
Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 98 minutes
Release Date: November 27, 2013
Greg, we just saw Philomena, yet another movie this year that is “inspired by a true events.”
It seems as though Judi Dench can portray almost anyone. Let’s recap.
We meet an elderly Irish woman named Philomena (Judi Dench), who had a son while she was a young teen. Her family was so ashamed that they sent her to a Catholic convent where she worked seven days a week and was only allowed to see her son one hour a day. One day the convent gave her son to adoptive parents without allowing Philomena to say goodbye to him. Fifty years have passed since this painful day, and now Philomena wants to find out what happened to her son.
The trail leads to America where Philomena and investigative reporter Martin (Steve Coogan) fly to find the adult son. Philomena has been thinking about him for 50 years and is worried that he might be homeless, or sick, or God forbid, obese. What happens next is an amusing fish out of water story as Martin and Phil traverse America in search of her long lost son.
Greg, Philomena is a charming story that chronicles two different hero journeys. First, there is the tale of a woman searching for a big chunk of her missing past. She’s looking to recover this missing quality and we, the audience, derive great satisfaction seeing her handle both triumph and setback as her story unfolds.
But there is an equally interesting story of a journalist, Martin, who is also looking to recover from a serious blow to his career. He believes that pursuing Philomena’s “human interest story” is the means to restoring his professional dignity but he discovers that the story carries more personal weight than he ever could have imagined. Both of these hero journeys contain enough surprises and intrigue to keep us keenly interested throughout the movie’s 98 minute running time.
True enough, Scott. Martin is a confirmed atheist, having rejected the Catholic church. He is a constant contrast to Philomena’s steadfast faith. Despite all the nuns did to her and the pain they caused by taking her son from her, she never wavers in the power of her beliefs.
There are a couple of missteps in an otherwise fine screenplay. One involves Mare Winningham who gets star credit for a single scene where she plays the grown sister to Philomena’s lost son. The scene adds little to the movie and the sister seems to have lost interest in her “brother” and her Irish roots. It’s a bit confusing.
At first, we have trouble taking the character of Philomena very seriously. She initially comes across as naïve and ditsy. But as her story unfolds, we begin to appreciate some hidden heft to her character. She ends up showing more maturity and grace in the face of adversity than we could have imagined. And we see her embodying Christian ideals far better than the Catholic nuns who mistreated her for years.
Her hero journey is a delight to watch, and it is captured nicely in Martin’s recitation of a T.S. Elliot quote about finally coming home but seeing home in a fresh new way. Martin’s hero journey is less settled but no less interesting. He believes that his atheistic perspective gives him greater clarity but the movie suggests that this clarity comes with a price. There is much food for thought about how Martin’s life will be changed by this experience.
Scott, Philomena is a non-traditional buddy story. I was captivated from the start. Dame Judi Dench does not disappoint. She has created a complex character full of life, and whimsy yet still wise. I enjoyed this movie and give it 4 out of 5 Reels. The two-handed hero’s journey intertwined these characters and gave those with and without faith an opportunity to look at the world through the other’s eyes. I give our heroes 4 out of 5 Heroes.
Greg, I agree with you that Philomena offers a unique dual-hero journey that compels its audience to think deeply about issues of faith, ethics, family, and conscience. There is a rare wisdom in this movie that moved me and challenged me to re-think my perspectives on religion, secularism, and life in general. Like you, I award this movie 4 out of 5 Reels.
But I’m going to bump up the hero rating to 5 out of 5. Philomena’s hero journey is wonderful to behold. She is no doubt forever changed by her experience and we can see a lovely transformation of understanding, compassion, and wisdom in her character. Juxtaposed with this is the more uncertain hero’s journey of Martin, who is affected in profound ways by the journey but one gets the feeling that unlike Philomena, Martin has a lot more processing to do to truly appreciate what has happened to him, and to them both. These two very different hero journeys, and how they are intertwined, impressed me greatly. Hence the full 5 out of 5 hero rating.