Steve Coogan plays a journalist/political functionary who falls on hard times and, as a result, ends up pursuing a "human interest" story about an old woman (Judi Dench) who is looking for a child she gave up for adoption 50 years earlier ('cause she wasn't married).
This is Philomena, the latest effort from Stephen Frears, the man in the chair for such memorable flicks as The Queen, High Fidelity and Mrs. Henderson Presents.
Coogan's Martin Sixsmith is as cynical and awful as Dench's Philomena is good and god-fearing, and while we needn't spend much time wondering what side the film makers' come down on (in the secular liberalism vs. religious traditionalist "debate") the film works because of Coogan's unflinching portrayal of a shallow modern man—and, of course, Dench's typically resonant depth.
Coogan co-wrote the script with John Pope based on the book by Martin Sixsmith (a real person!).
Explicit in this movie are the sins of the Catholic church, in particular the nunnery that took in the wayward girls, forced them to work off their medical bills, and then sold their babies to rich Americans.
Not exactly kosher, you know? Make them work off their medical bills or sell the babies. Doing both is double-dipping.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. In this movie, we have three story threads: The personal journey of Philomena to find her child, the mystery of what happened to said child, and the personal journey of Sixsmith, the last being the traditional movie character arc, as Coogan morphs from a major asshole to a slightly-less major asshole.
It's a solid film. It suffers a little as one of its major twists and turns has to do with homosexual Republicans. The movie chooses to boggle at the notion rather than explore it in any depth, when the exploration could've led to greater understanding.
I don't want to give anything away but since Coogan-via-Sixsmith is essentially the author of the story, and he has no concept of anything other than his worldview, at least that he can regard without contempt, a whole lot of interesting questions are never raised.
But as drama and an acting vehicle for the two, it's solid. The Boy also liked it quite a bit.
I just kept wanting to say:
She was only fifteen years old!