There is only one reason to see the new film, Philomena.
Of course, you can see it to watch yet another stellar performance from Dame Judi Dench or take in a comedic script, co-written by the clever Steve Coogan. Be swept up in the narrative that finds Dench, a woman in search of her child, taken 50 years earlier by nuns in an Irish convent, matched with Coogan, a journalist in need of a story. Already, you’re thinking, OK, so a better than average buddy film with no sex, action scenes or CGI scenery: a temperate box office, at best. Maybe I should skip it and watch Thor.
Please don’t. Seeing Philomena means more like it will be made.
I see a lot of films at TIFF. Too many, one could argue. Friends along for the ride suggest the plots begin to blur. Not true, but I thank them anyway for jogging me awake.
Truly, I like a lot of what I see. As an amateur filmmaker whose oeuvre includes Home Movies: Chapters 1 through 18, I am stuffed with admiration: there is almost always something to inspire.
But I don’t fall in love easily. Too many films telegraph their outcomes and instruct me how to feel. Or, their pitch is off and I lose interest. Getting tone right is so rare that, when I find it, I want to do a happy dance right there in my seat.
Philomena nailed it, without hammers at my head, telling me to weep or cues to laugh. What Coogan’s script and Stephen Frear’s direction achieve is genuine sentiment and an authenticity that settles upon you as you delight in the film’s many charms. Outside the theatre, awash in our culture, is no shortage of manufactured sentiment and the onslaught is only beginning as we hit December. We also love our irony. No one believes anything anymore and if they do, there must be an agenda. Arrogant blowhards abound and the soapbox is so crowded with punditry that nice seems out of fashion, like that shirt in the back of your closet you’re thinking of giving away.
This week, the real Philomena responded to a negative review, amidst a chorus of praise from most others, from the New York Post’s Kyle Smith. He described the film as a hateful and boring attack on Catholics and Republicans.
Here is an excerpt from her response:
“Kyle, Stephen’s movie about my story is meant to be a testament to good things, not an attack. It is a testament to the undying bond that exists between mothers and their children, something that I’ve found time and distance have no bearing on. It is a testament to the willingness to never give up on keeping that bond alive, even if all odds are pointing you against it. It is also a testament to the fact that no matter how old we grow, there is always a chance we will meet someone, however different from us, that might impact our views on humanity and help guide us on a new, if perhaps unforeseen, path.”
Philomena is one story in a world of tragedy but it speaks to the human spirit better than much of what I’ve seen all year. I did cry and laugh because the true story, elegantly told without a drop of excess, is sincere.
That is the one reason you should see it.
Cherish it when you find it.