"Philomena" is one of those rare films which successfully balances serious subject matter with wry humor. It's a buddy-road-trip-movie like no other and will ever-so-gently tug at your heart strings.
It is the true story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an elderly Irish woman whose son was tragically taken away from her. She has kept the devastating secret for 50 years and now wants to track him down. The thieves who took him were nuns who ran a home for unwed pregnant girls. Basically, they enslaved them for four years after selling their children ... Catholic human trafficking, one might observe.
In a twist of fate, Philomena hooks up with Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a former BBC journalist who, reluctantly, agrees to help her find her son. They're an unlikely duo. She's a stodgy Catholic. He's a judgmental atheist. The hilarious quipping between the two is brilliant as their journey takes unexpected twists and turns.
The magnificent Stephen Frears ("The Grifters") directs and he spares no contempt for a vast array of individuals and institutions. Frears manages to evoke righteous anger from his audience on such subjects as Reagan's stance on AIDS and secrets within the Catholic church, while simultaneously injecting humor.
The casting of Coogan and Dench is a match made in heaven. Their playing off one another is so perfectly synchronized, it's joyous to behold. Coogan also beautifully co-scripted the film with Jeff Pope and Martin Sixsmith, who wrote the book, "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee," upon which the movie is based.
Together, all involved in this profoundly moving project have created a masterpiece.
"Philomena" is a compelling commentary about holding onto our beliefs and also about letting them go. Frears steered clear of falling into sappy tearjerker territory and, instead, chose to lift our spirits. It's one of the best films of the year.
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