Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic
Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

There is nothing I enjoy less than watching a “road movie”.  They’re tedious and boring, or worse yet, they’re silly and juvenile; especially in films where grown men are seen behaving badly.  The scripts of such fare are usually mediocre at best.  Besides, who needs a well-plotted story and an intelligent script when the audience they’re targeted to could care less?

Dame Judi Dench never behaves badly either on the stage or in a movie.  She is too much a gifted professional actor.  So when I saw her name starring in a movie called “Philomena”, a drama about a young unmarried mother who gave birth to a baby boy who was then subsequently given to strangers for adoption, but now finds herself, fifty years later, obsessed with locating him – well I just had to check this movie out for myself.

Judi Dench, Steve Coogan © 2013 - The Weinstein Company
Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
© 2013 – The Weinstein Company

The odyssey-saga of  “Philomena”, wonderfully portrayed by Academy Award winning actor Judi Dench, and her co-star, a wry, world-weary Steve Coogan (who also co-wrote the screenplay with writer Jeff Pope) sends these two unlikely “detectives” on a journey to track down Philomena’s son Mark Anthony, the baby she gave up for adoption fifty years ago.  Okay, so I’m watching another “ road movie”, but this time there is a difference.  This story has grown-ups in the driver’s seat.   The script is carefully and intelligently crafted which is always good news for talented actors.

The story begins in Ireland with Coogan, portraying real life author Martin Sixsmith, a sacked BBC journalist who is now searching for a story to tell.  Martin has a chance meeting with Philomena’s daughter Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin) at a party who tells Martin that her mother Philomena Lee (Dench) is setting out on a journey to locate her birth son, a child she gave up for adoption more than fifty years ago.  Martin’s journalistic nose smells the elements of a story and agrees to help Philomena find her son.  Thus begins a journey that will take them to the United States and then back to England and Ireland.

Judi Dench, Steve Coogan © 2013 - The Weinstein Company
Judi Dench, Steve Coogan © 2013 – The Weinstein Company

The appeal of the movie lies in the absolutely splendid performances of Dench and Coogan who’s on-screen chemistry begins carefully at first but warms up and ultimately ends with respect and a genuine fondness for one another.  Dench just shines as a grandmotherly lady on a mission that will not be denied.   In the beginning, Martin sort of accepted Philomena as merely a source for a human interest story for his new project.  But it soon becomes apparent that he has developed a genuine mother-son relationship when people begin to stonewall Philomena’s inquiries in her efforts to locate her son.  That’s when he becomes protective toward her.  Martin requests assistance from his former American media and government contacts in an effort help find Mark Anthony.  There are story points that are best explained when seen in a movie theatre.  So no “spoiler alerts” here.

Suffice it to say, there is an air of suspense and drama in “Philomena” that should appeal to the broad 25 through 65 year-old demographic.  Also, it’s pretty certain that Dame Judi will get a Best Actor nomination, and that Coogan will be in the hunt for a Best Supporting Actor nod, as well as a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Judi Dench, Steve Coogan © 2013 - The Weinstein Company
Judi Dench, Steve Coogan © 2013 – The Weinstein Company

“Philomena”, directed by Stephen Frears is a small, compelling and poignant movie about a large and ever growing emotional subject.  More and more cases of children seeking their birth mothers are turning up in the news.   Produced by Gabrielle Tan, Tracey Seaword, and Steve Coogan, the issue has not been lost on movie executive Harvey Weinstein, the canny and highly successful head of the Weinstein Company, who is distributing the film.

Weinstein has an enviable track record of picking up small movies for distribution and turning them into Academy Award Best Picture winners and/or blockbusters at the box office.  Remember “Shakespeare in Love”, (seven Oscars), “The King’s Speech”, Best Picture and Best Actor AA Awards, and last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner and Best Actor Award winner “The Artist”? are just three movies among many and all films were distributed by the Weinstein Company.  Better catch a screening before the lines start forming.

“Philomena” is in full distribution nationwide.

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