review – philomena


As a director, Stephen Frears knows how to find the heart, the humanity, and the humor in situations and create movies that tell small stories in wonderfully intelligent ways. He did it in “Dirty Pretty Things;” he did it in “Mrs. Henderson Presents;” and he does it again here. This is a movie that had me laughing out loud at Steve Coogan’s offhand remarks; amazed at Judi Dench’s ability to get the smallest nuances so right; enraged at the policies and practices of the Catholic Nuns in Ireland; and remembering that what I love about independent films is that they tell stories like this. This is a true story about a mother searching for her child with the help of a man who is trying to write her story.

Judi Dench gives a fully convincing performance. Watch the look in her eyes, the line of her mouth, the set of her jaw. You’ll marvel at her willingness to forgive, to find pleasure in the smallest of discoveries, to be able to watch what must be incredibly painful, to decide what’s important — and what’s important to overlook. Your heart will break watching her endure what she must to be a Mom. And Steve Coogan, who I’ve never found either funny or one of my favorite actors, is a perfect foil for her here. This is a movie that fully satisfies with performances that feel natural, relationships that feel real, and an ending that would have been changed beyond recognition if this were a typical “Hollywood” film. Fortunately, it’s not. This is what really happened, as it happened, to the people it happened to. You will care about these people and about their story. See this movie.