Monday, December 9, 2013

Movie appropriately nuanced

There’s a lot to like in Philomena, UK director Stephen Frears new movie based on a book by Martin Sixsmith. Judi Dench as Philomena is near perfect as a very Catholic elderly Irish woman who goes on a search for her long lost son. Steve Coogan (The Trip, 2010, A Cock and Bull Story (2005) and myriad other film and TV credits including Curb Your Enthusiasm, and who co-wrote and produced this movie) plays journalist Sixsmith in a not too bad portrayal of a skeptical snobbish journalist trying to get back on his feet after being sacked as a top government spokesthingy. The story’s core is about how, in the 1950s, pregnant teenager girls would be sent to “the nunnery” and their children would be sold to willing parents, often Americans. The girls, of course, had no say in the matter. Philomena wants to find her son Anthony, taken away at age three. Sixsmith does a little investigative work and finds that Anthony grew up in America to become a lawyer and eventual top advisor in the 1980s to President Ronald Reagan. Anthony, whose name was changed to Michael A. Hess, was also gay. The story takes Philomena and Sixsmith to America where most of their search takes place. To say this movie is charming misses the point. To say this movie is an overly serious condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church isn’t right either. What’s best about the movie is that it’s nuanced, a bit surprising for contemporary directors telling a story like this. Yes, we see the horror of how girls were treated in an Irish convent many years ago. But for me the real story was about professional arrogance – on the Sixsmith character’s part – and how a supposed simple woman like Philomena has more wisdom than an educated elitist. It’s also about forgiveness and not holding grudges despite righteous indignation. For good character portraits and for those lessons alone the movie is worth going to see.

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