Philomena (2013)

Last post before school starts tomorrow…

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Philomena tells the story of Martin Sixsmith, a journalist who helps a woman search for her son after he was taken away from her back when she was living in a convent.

What a surprise! This was the best picture nominee that basically had zero buzz (even Nebraska had some), but I found myself loving it much more than people say. I really enjoyed it, and I’d even rank it above a couple of the more well known films. The story is very simple, yet extremely beautiful. And all those beautiful shots of the scenery…wow. I’ll have to admit that there’s nothing overly special technically, but it is more all of the emotional and visual beauty of the film that got me hooked. There was not a single moment where I was bored, and I always wanted to find out more.

I have heard some people complain about the humor being very forced but I have no issue with it…to be honest, I felt like the real humor came from the fact that the jokes cracked by Sixsmith weren’t particularly funny. The palpable awkwardness as he tried to make some funny/witty remarks but
no one understood/gave a shit, was where I thought the humour was actually. Of course, it doesn’t make you laugh out loud, but just enough to smile to yourself, which I liked a lot.

The only controversial point was that of the evil nuns, which even took me by surprise when I watched it. Well, thanks a lot, The Sound of Music for your portrayal of saintly nuns. I don’t really have an opinion though because I’m a free thinker myself so I’m not particularly offended or anything…I just think it’s interesting.

The direction is nothing out of the ordinary, but it was good. I might even have even have nominated Frears over David O.Russell, but I think I’m saying this because of my rather strong dislike for American Hustle. Like I said, I have no issue with the tone of the film; it was very relaxing, charming and entertaining to watch. The pacing was just fine too, and the overall style wasn’t too quirky or forced.

Some people have mentioned Dame Judi Dench’s performance being affected by the “humour” but I have no issue at all. In a way, she reminded me of my grandma, the whole rattling on and on about her favorite book/tv, the slightly eccentric behavior and her slightly naive/simplistic thinking, like when she gets all excited by the superb service and “nice people”. Honestly, when she was talking about the novel I was instantly reminded about how my grandma talks about her tv soap operas, and how she discusses the characters and villains etc…

How I love, love, love Dame Judi Dench! She might be even be the favorite of what I term the “holy trinity of actress dames”, namely Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren. I have actually heard some people saying that she plays herself over and over again/uses the same mannerisms, but I must add that this argument can be applied to a lot of the greats. In my opinion, a lot of the legendary actors have the same acting style/mannerisms in a lot of their performances, just observe Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and especially Jack Nicholson. The true brilliance lies in how they fit their styles and mannerisms into the performances and create a truly original character (usually through emotional depth). Or maybe I’m just lenient, but I never felt the need to see what style the actors employ, as long as they make their performances work. Anyway, the same can be said about Judi Dench. Yes, she does have the same emotional quality and delivery in a lot of her performances, but her characterization is fantastic. Honestly, she can be in a role as limited as her Oscar winning one in Shakespeare in Love, or My Week with Marilyn, but still add so many tiny nuances and details in her performance and reveal the different layers of her character so well that they still leave somewhat of an impression. And what’s even more remarkable is that she makes them look some easy and natural, like the acting brilliance just flows out of her naturally. I’m sorry if I’m rattling on, but I just get giddy with excitement when I discuss brilliant actresses (look at my Glenn Close post).

I absolutely, absolutely loved Dame Judi’s performance here. I’m very very surprised at how little it is discussed. In her way, her character reminds me of Frances Mcdormand in Fargo (I know it’s an odd comparison). They have a very simplistic outlook of what they want in life and from others. They’re eccentric, guided by their simple ideals, and they just cannot understand the cruelty and bitterness about the world. Things like that make them sad, which is why Philomena chooses to forgive and understand things from the perspectives of others. Dame Judi’s performance is very tricky. Like in a lot of her other performances, she very effortlessly portrays Philomena as a simple woman, but adds all these emotional layers to her, like her guilt, her sadness, her simple happiness at the kindness of the service staff, her disappointment in Sixsmith’s behavior, and her rather unusual openness in discussing sex and homosexuality. I love how she can depict all these emotions very naturally without pulling the weird old lady card. Just like the breakfast scene: she could be excitedly talking about pancakes in one second (she really reminds me of how my grandma gets excited when she sees things like that) and then breaking all our hearts by bursting into tears upon hearing the bad news. Or the confession scene, where she basically had no lines but you could see the conflicting emotions and despair in her face.

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To me, Dame Judi MADE Philomena the delightful but moving film that it is. I’m very very happy that I chose to ignore the critics and watch the film because I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m admittedly a bit over enthusiastic, but it’s really because I didn’t expect myself to enjoy the movie so much. A very good 4/5 (better than the other 4/5 films that I’ve watched)

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P.s. By the way, how can anyone watch Notes on a scandal (her BEST performance) and Philomena and say that she plays the same role over and over again?

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