Movie Review: Philomena (2013)

Posted: May 20, 2015 in Comedy, Drama


Disgraced by a Labor Party scandal in England, former journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is now looking to write a history of Russia.  Sally Mitchell (Michelle Fairley)  offers Sixsmith a job as a journalist, but only if he writes a human interest story.  Martin meets a server named Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin) at a party, and Jane tells Martin that her mother, Philomena (Judi Dench, Sophie Kennedy Clark) had her son taken from her by Irish nuns, who subsequently sold her son to America.  After initially rebuffing a meeting with Philomena, Martin meets with her and agrees to try to find her son.  Do Philomena and Martin find her son.

I had heard good things about this movie so I decided to watch it.  I did not like Philomena, the tone feels all wrong, for such a serious topic.  Screenwriter Steve Coogan litters the script with awkward jokes and dialogue.  This is a story about selling infants, and Coogan turns it into a George Burns Gracie Allen  routine, and Philomena is made just as flighty as Gracie Allen, she’ a woman looking for a lost son, and yet she’s making inappropriate comments to Martin.  It was offputting.  Also the movie doesn’t save the reveal for the end, so the rest of the movie seems like filler.  Coogan thee screenwriter really wanted to emphasize that Sixsmith was an atheist, I didn’t think that detail was important, other than Hollywood taking another opportunity to bash religion. There is an interesting story here, actually two, but this screenplay does not capture it.

I did not like the way Coogan played Martin Sixsmith, snarky and surly, he actually played Sixsmith as not a very likeable character and the viewer has to like the protagonist to make this kind of story work.  Judi Dench tries to offset Coogan, by playing Philomena as a loving forgiving and somewhat naïve Irish Catholic, but I think Dench overplays the naiveté a bit.

Stephen Frears is a good director, he’s directed such movies as High Fidelity, The Grifters, and  Dangerous Liasons, but the pacing is slow.  For a short film, 98 minutes, it feels much longer.  Dench gives a good performance, but I can’t imagine she needed much direction.  Coogan needed someone to tell him to tone down his performance, and no one did.

Philomena.  I had my fill.


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