Philomena (Rated PG-13, 98 minutes)
The somewhat touching story of Philomena, an Irish Catholic woman who attempts to find her child after his adoption fifty years prior, is nothing more than an average affair. Now Philomena is interesting because at its center it is a kind-hearted film, however, it does not deserve the awards and accolades it has gotten; it is similar to The Help, a movie that gets so much undeserved praise because it was the feel good picture of that year.
With that said, I did not hate Philomena, I just found it aggressively average. Yes, this is not a movie one sees for technical brilliance, but Stephen Frears is an above average director who has made some classics. However, it feels like an amateur shot this; for instance, several transition shots are terrible and take the viewer out of the movie. On top of this, the Oscar-nominated writing is average at best. The nature of the ‘true story’ is so compelling that the writers must have forgotten to flesh out the rest of the script. Instead, two talented writers, Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan, write a ‘fish out of water story’ with cheesy dialogue; perhaps the real Philomena is like this, but it bothers me that such an immature approach was taken with such a serious subject.
Again, it really bothers me that a movie takes such a serious focus as ‘religious injustice,’ and makes light of it; Philomena negatively shows Catholicism and ‘their backward way of thinking,’ which in many ways is the truth. But perhaps, the idea of showing this serious subject matter with such a naïve character like Philomena does not do the topic justice. On top of this, Philomena’s single minded approach leads to an unsatisfying ending that is all bark and no bite: and way too preachy for my taste.
With that said, the saving grace of the film is Judi Dench who gives a sweetness to Philomena. Even if one does not agree with the way the story is told, he or she cannot fault Judi Dench; she did the best with what she was given. In fact, in the very weak Best Actress category, she is my favorite performance of 2013. There is an alluring charm to the innocence of Philomena, which makes the praise of this picture semi-understandable.
Meanwhile, Steve Coogan is a good actor who can do just about anything, but there is a huge problem with his character Martin Sixsmith. Usually in a proper story arch, the audience wants their main character to grow and, if the movie calls for it, become a better person. However, Martin never fully develops into anything but unlikable; constantly throughout the story he acts like a jerk but the audience is supposed to accept him because he quickly apologizes. This is not character growth; at the end of the story his boorish nature refuses to change. Which begs the question: why am I supposed to care about a character that abhors people who he thinks are beneath him?
As anyone can see, Philomena has several problems that people overlook because it is a feel good movie: which is the sole reason why it is nominated for Best Picture. But the film suffers from poor writing, and some bad directing choices, which ultimately hurt the saving grace performance from Judi Dench. I really wanted to like Philomena, but the overall film is muddled by the lackadaisical approach to serious subject matter.