REVIEW: Philomena

13 01 2014

PhilomenaLondon Film Festival

At first glance, the real-life story of Philomena Lee would seem like the stuff of depressing drama. After being impregnated as a teenager, she is thrown into a convent and forced to sign away her son. 50 years later, Philomena (Judi Dench) is still haunted by his loss and embarks on a journey to find him – only to uncover some unsettling truths.

In the hands of the average screenwriter, “Philomena” would have emphasized the tragedy and milked the story for every tear possible. Yet Philomena’s quest is filtered through the lens of Steve Coogan (yes, Damien Cockburn from “Tropic Thunder,” among many other roles) and Jeff Pope’s unique worldview, making it a rather different movie. It definitely has its heart in the very heartbreaking dramatic truth of her life; however, it’s a surprisingly and heartwarmingly hilarious.

Much of the humor comes from Coogan’s own presence as an actor in the film, portraying Martin Sixsmith, the journalist who takes an interest in investigating Philomena’s past. He’s quite the counterpoint to her seemingly incurable optimism: having just been fired from his government job, he’s rather merciless and defeatist. Coogan and Dench don’t just have a standard comic man-straight man routine going, though. They each express their worldviews wittily and distinctly, with both having moments of vindication and defeat.

Read the rest of this entry »