Tuesday, February 11, 2014

PHILOMENA - 4 nominations


Actress in a Leading Role - Judi Dench
Best Picture - Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan and Tracey Seaward, Producers
Music (Original Score) - Alexandre Desplat
Writing (Adapted Screenplay) - Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope

The day I went to see Philomena, as I was getting settled in my seat, a woman in the row in front of me leaned back and said, "this is my second time seeing this movie.  You won't believe the places it will take you and if you like it, please tell as many people about it as possible."  She didn't have an accent so she probably wasn't Steve Coogan's (producer, writer, actor) mother.

Philomena recounts the tragic story of young, unwed, Catholic mothers who go to live in a convent and whose children are adopted out primarily to rich Americans, while they live and work in hard conditions.  It is unclear whether this adoption process is against their will, but to some degree, it appears so.  Fifty years after Philomena's child's birth, she shares her history with her daughter who enlists a journalist to help Philomena find her long lost son.  Together, they take on the convent for leads (they get nothing) so they fly to the US and they pursue any nugget of information that they uncover, some of which leads them closer to her child.  Unlike classic tales in which the victim finds a rescuer who takes over and saves her, Philomena never loses her newly developed sense of empowerment, and owns her choices each step of the way.  Her journalist partner in crime becomes more enraged as they discover cruel choices that the nuns made along the way, but Philomena won't engage in the anger and even finds forgiveness and peace.  (To find out if she finds and meets her son, you'll have to see the movie - I'm committed to a no spoilers policy for this blog.)

I left the film inspired by this tale for so many reasons - was it the forgiveness the lead character was able to find despite terrible injustice?  Was it watching a woman find her voice as she releases a lifelong sense of shame?  Was it the redemption of a hardened journalist too self-important for human interest and human justice stories?  Was it an unshakable commitment to a person's faith, no matter what they faced along the way?  I don't know.  I could probably list another ten themes that are done so well in the film that made seeing the film well worth it.

I've seen every performance in the Best Actress category, and Judi Dench deserves it, hands down (I don't think she will win, but she should).  Her performance is nuanced, touching, and important.  She plays the broad spectrum of emotions and does it superbly.

Philomena is only nominated for a Best Picture Oscar because of the expanded list of nine.  Were we back in the days of 5, I doubt that it would have made the cut.  It's a great film, but not necessarily an important film.  But, to the people who survived this kind of shaming and injustice, and to the people who want a rich understanding of what can be perpetuated in the name of righteousness, there is little question that this film makes its impact.  The writing is wonderful, and all of the elements work together to make an incredible story.

Haven't seen the film?
Watch the Philomena Movie Trailer

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