'Philomena' worth watching more than once

Akron Beacon JournalApril 21, 2014 

  • New Releases

    These DVDs were released this week:

    Films: Tyler Perry's Madea's Neighbors From Hell (The Play) (stage performance, filmed in Atlanta), The Address (Ken Burns documentary about Vermont boarding school), Barefoot, The Suspect, Bettie Page Reveals All (documentary), Big Bad Wolves (Israel), American Masters: Billie Jean King (autobiographical documentary of the tennis great, PBS), Master of the House (1925, silent film by Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer, The Criterion Collection), Inspector Lavardin Collection (Cohen Film Collection), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954, The Criterion Collection), The Hooping Life (documentary on hula-hooping), Empire of the Apes, Shuffleton's Barbershop (Hallmark Channel movie), Scream Park, Seven Warriors (1989, Hong Kong), Stranger on the Prowl (1952, Olive Films), Gila! (made-for-TV sci-fi film) and The Good Witch's Garden (2008, Hallmark Channel movie) .

    TV Series: Doctor Who: The Web of Fear (1968, PBS), Newhart: Third Season (1984-85), Mr. Magoo Theatrical Collection (1949-1959, four-disc set) and The King Family Classic Television Specials Collection Volume 1 (1968-69).


When Philomena was in theaters, it received mostly positive reviews — 92 percent, according to Rotten Tomatoes. The Oscars took notice, too, giving it four nominations: best picture, actress (Judi Dench), adapted screenplay (Steve Coogan, who also co-starred, and Jeff Pope) and original music score (Alexandre Desplat).

But it still seems the movie was overlooked. It did not win any Oscars. Box Office Mojo says Philomena's revenues were lower than those for five other best-picture Oscar nominees.

This is a shame. Philomena is a meaty, well-written, well-acted piece that deserves repeated viewing. Now on disc ($29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray), it uses the true story of Philomena Lee to talk about redemption, forgiveness, faith, journalism and people being true to their basic selves. The script and the direction by Stephen Frears make no apologies for the characters. Indeed, the movie ends on a reminder that, however much Lee (played by Dench) and reporter Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) have found common ground, they are very different.

The film involves Sixsmith looking for a career rebound and thinking he has found it in the story of Lee, a woman who gave up her out-of-wedlock child 50 years ago and wants to find him. That real-life search uncovered a major church scandal and took Sixsmith and Lee in some unexpected directions. The movie does likewise, but rarely in a way that feels contrived — and even when it does, the turns are all too real.

The core of Philomena, though, is what happens between Lee and Sixsmith. The journalist is more than a little snobbish; Lee's tastes are thoroughly mundane; and the film is content not to overly soften Sixsmith or to turn Lee into something grander. It's a joy to watch Coogan and Dench work with each other.

In short, if you have not seen the film, do so now. Then think about it. Then watch it again. You can watch it twice in about as much time as it takes to see The Wolf of Wall Street once — and you'll be better off.

Extras include audio commentary by Coogan and Pope, a Q&A with Coogan and segments with Dench and about the real Philomena Lee.

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