“Inspired by true events”. Those four simple words that appear right before a movie rolls have an interesting effect on the pre-perception of a film. From that moment onward, you know that whatever you’re watching has, in some shape or form, previously unfolded. Of course films are dramatized and over-exaggerated to reach that level of gut-wrenching drama, but the achievement of director Stephen Frears and producer Steve Coogan was that “Philomena” presented it’s poetic story in such a grounded and inspiring way that elegantly hops over the pitfalls that “true story” movies usually fall into. Featuring two brilliant performances from Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, “Philomena” shares a personal and touching tale supplemented by a worthy screenplay and top-notch directorial styles.
The story of the film was based off Martin Sixsmith’s book, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee”. In her early adulthood, Philomena Lee (portrayed by Dame Judi Dench) was forced to give her young baby boy away for adoption. About 50 years later, Philomena is introduced to a journalist named Martin Sixsmith (portrayed by Steve Coogan). Initially, human-interest pieces don’t really capture Sixsmith’s interest, but after learning more about Philomena and her life, he decides to dig a little deeper with her. A friendship is slowly built between the two, as Sixsmith’s dedication for helping Philomena find her long lost son grows.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am a huge sucker for Judi Dench. The way she absorbs herself into each role she plays is amazing and it’s no different here with “Philomena”. Her performance is simultaneously heart breaking and uplifting; it’s simply incredible. Steve Coogan does a superb job, absolutely holding his own with Judi Dench. Steve Coogan is usually featured in comedies and to see him in this film is terrific. He initially approaches the role with his cynic shtick but his performance evolves and gains more depth throughout the film. He is a different man by the end. The on-screen chemistry that Judi Dench and Steve Coogan share is without a doubt the anchor of the film. It’s a chemistry that’s inspiring and just plays out so well in the film. It was certainly my favorite part.
Not only does Steve Coogan handle leading man duties like a pro, he co-wrote the script with screenwriter Jeff Pope. These two deserve a lot of credit for making this movie as beautiful as it was. The script is just so natural and personal. It flows with elegant pace, which keeps the story in focus and not over-drawn. Stephen Frears’ direction is the perfect complement to the script. Character direction is very important with a story like this, and the way Frears was able to craft exponential character development from beginning to end was fascinating to watch. The only negative I have with the direction of the story was that some supporting characters left me with some questions regarding exactly who they were and what their connection was to the story.
“Philomena” is an absolutely beautiful film. Anchored with the tremendous chemistry of Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, a lot of things made this film great. Of course, this movie is for the more mature and focused movie-goer, but really everyone should be able to take away something good from it. Philomena Lee’s story was treated with care and respect. I full-heartedly give “Philomena” 9.5 out of 10.
Montclair State | New Jersey