Movie Review: “Philomena” – Funny, Quaint, yet Terribly Predictable

Written by Rebecca Mirabelli December 06, 2013


Between finishing the second season of “American Horror Story,” and then stumbling across “Philomena,” one thing is clear: do not trust the nuns.

“Philomena” was an enjoyable film to watch. I could gauge by the other, slightly older, viewers in the audience that I was not the target market for the movie. Yet, somehow I found myself laughing at all the appropriate adult cues, and sometimes even at the silly British-humour moments that others didn’t find as amusing. “Philomena” is the mostly true story of an old Irish lady who has her born-out-of-wedlock child sold by nuns to an American family; and it also follows the ex-BBC journalist who captures the story to share to the world. Dame Judi Dench is, as always, a masterful actor, able to maintain an Irish accent while tugging at your heartstrings one moment and then acting just as quaint and charming as she was as the title character in “Mrs. Henderson Presents.” Steve Coogan was delightfully witty and charming, and kicked off the film with sardonic, and too British, humour.

My problem with “Philomena” is that it was far too predictable. I won’t explain too much of the plot (even though the trailer undermines any potential for surprise), but the first twenty minutes depict the exact film direction “Philomena” would be taking. Martin (Coogan) is introduced as the journalist who just lost his job and is looking for his next big hit, which might potentially be in writing a Russian History novel. At the same time, Philomena (Dench) decides to explain her 50 year old secret, getting pregnant and having a baby at an exceptionally young age, to her daughter in subsequent shots. Cue Martin and Philomena chatting over lunch and one thing leads to another and they end up in Washington, D.C., and lo and behold, Philomena finds her son! Now, without spoiling the really juicy part (which again, I emphasize the trailer reveals all…), even the events that occur after her son is found are completely predictable.

Jidi Dench in Philomena. Credit: The Weinstein Co.

But looking on the greener side of the fence, the score is very enjoyable. And although the setting and scenes were beautiful shots of various places in Ireland and England, there was one aspect to do with the scenery that drove me crazy throughout “Philomena.” I know it’s impractical for a film to include every transition between a scene, whether it’s across some time or some distance; we just have to expect that during the interim of these two scenes, our characters traveled from Point A to Point B. In “Philomena,” Martin and Philomena would be chatting in a hotel or restaurant, and at the next moment, they are continuing their conversation in the middle of a large grassy meadow without the suggestion of a road being nearby. If the meadow had anything to do with the story, rather than just for metaphor, pathetic fallacy, or whatnot, I would be able to make do with the sudden seemingly nonsensical transition. This happened frequently throughout “Philomena” and I found it more aggravating than artistic.  

The Philosophy of “Philomena”

But as both actor and producer and screenwriter, Coogan did quite a marvelous job with the screenplay, and Dench was very successful in making me empathize with her. However, Philomena’s atttitude towards “the one who did this to her” in the movie is very unsatisfying, which I think is supposed to be the point, but frustrates me regardless. I think the intention of all the questions regarding religion, spirituality, and how they effect one’s life is to make us determine whether we align ourselves with the philosophies of Martin or Philomena. Yet by the end of the film, I couldn’t help but share Martin’s opinions of the “evil nuns” as he refers to them. Especially since there’s nothing more vexing than inaction when confronted with the denial of justice.

My Rating: 6.5/10


philomena poster

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