I generally liked this movie, especially the winning central performances from Steve Coogan and Judy Dench. I feel like the final payoff — where Dench’s character learns what has happened to her son, could have been far more dramatically powerful. Likewise, Coogan’s character’s confrontation with the “evil” nun.
The movie tries to have its cake and eat it too on the subject of religion. For those who are believers, Dench’s character embodies the “simple faith” that is true to the church. For nonbelievers, Coogan’s character represents the incredulity at the sheer ignorance of such people.
I feel like Coogan (as co-screenwriter, with Jeff Pope) cops out gives the believers the “win” in the end of the story. But that could be my own pre-conceived notions that I bring to the story. Or it could just be faithfulness to the true story on which Philomena was based.
In any case, it’s nice to see a quality “small” movie get big nomination recognition — even if it’s not the small movie I would have liked.
I guess this movie has divided people. Some feel it is looking down on the simple folk of the Midwest. Some feel it’s a loving satire. I guess I would fall in the former camp. If this film was not in the black and white tones of a *serious movie* I doubt anyone would be giving it a second thought. The cinematography is very good and Bruce Dern is very good (although I recently spoke to an 80-year-old woman who did not find his dementia credible).
But the script by Bob Nelson and the directing by Alexander Payne never modulates out of a medium funny mode. I was smirking or frowning, never laughing or crying. Part of this is that, although the characters are mostly believable, the filmmakers can’t resist broad comedic touches like having two buffoonish cousins “disguise” themselves in ski masks.
I prefer any of Payne’s previous films, even the much-maligned About Schmidt, which at least has an elderly male protagonist who is a hoot to watch and which excavates deeper mines of both pathos and Horatian satire.