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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Philomena’: sentimental comedy


    Courtesy of BBC Films

    Based on the book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee,” this film adaptation focuses on the true story of Philomena’s multi-decade search for her lost son. Grounded by two fine performances by the lead actors, “Philomena” does enough to strike equally humorous and emotional chords.
    Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is a government journalist for BBC when a scandal involving he-said, she-said e-mails results in his termination. While at a party — after telling his condescending peers that he plans use his newfound time to write a book on Russian history — he meets a young woman who says she has a story for him.
    Some 50 years ago her mother, Philomena Lee (Judy Dench), became pregnant while working in a convent in Ireland. Roughly three years after Anthony’s birth, the nuns unexpectedly adopt Anthony out without even letting his mother say good-bye. For these 50 years, Philomena has been searching for her son, but to no avail. Martin, who has a well-dressed, tempered cynicism, holistically declaims such “human interest” stories as pandering to the masses.
    Later that evening, though, realizing there’s nothing better to do with unemployment, he decides that journalism of any kind will do him some good. He agrees to meet Philomena, and thus begins their journey of locating Anthony and discovering who he became.
    This is just the initial set-up of the film, which has the feeling of a mystery. There are numerous developments as the two unlikely companions travel across the globe in search of Philomena’s long-lost son. While there are a couple of twists that feel unnecessary, there are also revelations here that will punch you in the gut with a solid blow.
    Apart from finding Anthony, the film has enough raw sentiment and tragedy to make you legitimately feel for these characters. Throughout, we are shown flashbacks of Philomena’s life, from when she met the charming lad at the fair who impregnated her, to her shamefully being brought before the nuns while pregnant, to her helplessly looking through the slits of a gate at the convent as Anthony is whisked away in a strange family’s car. This is a woman who made love to a man once in her twenties, and has been haunted by the consequences for her entire life. It is not overtly sentimental to the point of being false, but rather to the point of being tragic and unfair.
    The unorthodox relationship between Martin and Philomena is the meat of the film. Coogan plays a relatively dour man, a smirking atheist who has been publicly humiliated and is writing a story he would normally scoff at. Dench, on the other hand, plays a little old Irish lady and devout Roman Catholic who, on the surface, appears a simpleton — she is even amazed by the comedic genius of “Big Momma’s House.”
    The give and take between the two creates the comedy, while the friction creates the drama. At times, Dench’s character seems a touch too much; her gullible nature is the butt of many jokes. However, we know that beneath this grandmotherly exterior is grief. The actors exquisitely portray the strengths and weaknesses in both characters.
    I’ll admit that the trailers for this film didn’t exactly blow me away. An old woman looking for her lost son with the help of a journalist? Bah. Obviously not geared toward my demographic of white male college student. When I strolled into the theater for a matinee showing Saturday afternoon, I immediately became the youngest person in the room by at least 30 years. And you’ve never seen more trailers in a single sitting that just scream “period piece Oscar-bait.”
    However, I was very pleasantly surprised by “Philomena,” so if you don’t think it will be your particular cup of tea, you could do much worse than giving it a try.

    Grade: B

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