Today’s Cinema Society screening was the Judi Dench movie written and co-starring British comedian Steve Coogan, who was supposed to be with us for a Q&A but couldn’t make it.
Based on a true story that was chronicled in the real Philomena Lee’s book, the movie follows the journey of a retired Irish nurse (Dench) who, pregnant as a teenager, was sent to the convent of Roscrea to be raised as a “fallen woman” and give birth. When her son was a toddler, he was whisked off by the nuns –
“sold” by them – to live with adopted parents in America and Philomena spent the next 50 years searching for him, wondering if he ever thought of her, if he assumed she’d abandoned him. Her daughter meets a disgraced journalist (Coogan) who thinks Philomena’s quest would make a successful human interest story, and together they fly to Washington D.C. where the son was last known to have lived and worked in the Reagan and Bush administrations. An odd couple in every way, Dench and Coogan’s characters spar about religion, food, literature, etc., but form a bond over their shared desire to get to the truth.
There are genuinely affecting moments in this film, and they’re due in many ways to the enormous talent of Dench. She manages to make her character authentic, not the sweet, simple old lady we might otherwise be seeing on screen. Her character’s humanity is compelling and the story, while tragic, is also very funny at times. But overall, this one just wasn’t for me. I felt let down by the end. Well, there are really two endings, and they both left me wanting a bigger payoff. I guess what I’m saying is that I liked “Philomena” but didn’t love it.