Philomena review

Stephen Frears
Judi Dench
Steve Coogan
Sophie Kennedy Clark
Rated: PG-13

“Philomena” was inspired by a true story of a woman who went on quite a journey to find her son that she was forced to give up for adoption at a young age. Judi Dench stars as the title character in the film, however, the movie opens with exposition of another character named Martin (Coogan). Martin is a journalist whose main focus is on the world of politics. When he is fired from his position, though, he decides to write a human interest story on Philomena and because of this the two go on a journey to find out what became of her son.

As the story goes along Philomena’s past is brought up of how she was forced to live in a convent after giving up her son for adoption. The film also shows both Martin and Philomena traveling to the United States to discover more about her son.

For the most part, “Philomena” plays as a simple, charming road movie where two characters learn a bit about each other as things go along. While this doesn’t hurt the movie in any way, it doesn’t help it either. The issue with “Philomena” is that there seems to be a lack of any heavy emotional moments that really make one engaged in the movie.

When reviewing this movie I think back to “Nebraska,” a film that was released earlier this year which featured an older man and his younger son who were also on a trip and learned some things about each other. What made that movie work was the sharp humor and also the very real, raw emotions that were on display in some of the scenes.

“Philomena” only has a few of these. For the most part, the film just feels so scripted and when there were emotional moments, they didn’t connect as much. It keeps it from being a deeper movie as the whole thing comes off as rather straight forward.

The film also features flashbacks which give too much explanation. The premise of the film is emotional enough on its own, a woman looking to find a son she had to give away at a young age in a horrible situation. However, instead of just letting an actress like Judi Dench tell that story in a scene with some great dialogue, the film instead puts in a dramatized flashback. It feels too calculated at tugging on heart strings.

The handling of the character Philomena is probably the biggest weakness of the flick, too. Throughout 90 percent of the movie, Philomena is written as so aloof and so naive just to create comedy. At first it is humorous, sure. However as the film enters the second act, Dench’s Philomena becomes a bit exhausting because of her naivety towards most of the things around her. This decreases the value of the character and weakens the development that is trying to be presented.

This isn’t to say that Dench is really even bad in the role, she’s a very talented, accomplished actress and she does the best with what she has here, the writing just isn’t very strong. That being said Dench is still likable enough to keep the character from being annoying.

Steve Coogan who plays Martin is fine in the movie, too, and plays off Dench on screen well. By the end of the film, there is a scene where the character really stands up for Philomeana and Coogan is very strong and believable in that part, which is probably the best in the movie.

There are flaws with Philomena, but it isn’t a terrible movie, far from it. The film is light-hearted, has nice comedy, and characters who likable enough to make it go along. Plus, the actual mystery aspect concerning Philomena’s son is interesting.

However, at the same time, it’s just simple and feels so scripted in how it handles the more emotional scenes. In the end, “Philomena” is a rather average movie. Low 3 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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