Summary : A charming and sometimes heartbreaking film that is anchored by Judi Dench's excellent performance.
Drama is an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Comedy is just the opposite: there, the audience watches an extraordinary person in an ordinary situation. Finally a dramedy is extraordinary people in the middle of an extraordinary story. The latter is the hardest to pull off, as it needs compelling people and an unexpected plot. Whenever films try to be both, they usually fail, and end up falling to one side or the other. Philomena however, pulls it off just fine.
Directed by Stephen Frears, Philomena tells the true story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) who had a baby as a teenage girl and was forced to turn to an abbey for help. While she worked in the laundry for years to pay off her debt to them, her son is adopted by an American couple. For fifty years she tries to get back in touch with him, but to no avail. She eventually catches the attention of reporter Martin Sexsmith (Steve Coogan) who decides to write a human interest story on her as he helps her search for her son.
The movie is all about Judi Dench, who completely disappears into her role. She is at various times sharp and witty or sad and vulnerable. But what really makes this performance amazing is that the character is just a bit… off. It becomes hard not to fixate on her during scenes, trying to figure her out. Meanwhile Coogan (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Pope) at first seems to just be playing a variation of his usual self. This would have been perfectly fine as Coogan himself is always entertaining, but as the film goes on he starts to peel back layers and really reveal the subtleties of his character.
However, as good as his performance is, it’s really just there to accentuate Philomena, as many of his best moments come from just reacting to her. Some scenes, it seems as if he is perfectly content to sit back and watch her work. This is her movie and Coogan knows it.
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