Recently: “Philomena”

The biographical film is the one genre that can truly be surprising. A lot of times you’ll find a film whose subject you know nothing of. Others, involve someone or something that you knew a little on, and thus could gain a bit more from.

With the Weinstein Company film “Philomena”, we, the audience is treated to a rather hopeful and sad tale of one woman’s lifetime journey to find her long lost son.

This biographical drama stars Judi Dench (“Skyfall”, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”), Steve Coogan (“The Trip”, “Alan Partridge”), Michelle Fairley (“24: Live Another Day”, “Common”), Barbara Jefford (“The Deep Blue Sea”, “Madame Bovary”), Anna Maxwell Martin (“The Bletchley Circle”, “Death Comes to Pemberley”), and Mare Winningham (“American Horror Story”, “Under the Dome”).

The film is directed by Stephen Frears (“Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight”, “Lay the Favorite”) and written by Coogan (“The Trip”, “Alan Partridge”) and Jeff Pope (“The Widower”, “Lucan”). It is based on the book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” by Martin Sixsmith.

The film had premiers at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the Venice Film Festival and went on to be nominated and win several awards. The film would also be nominated for Four Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and a Screen Actors Guild Awards.

The film eventually opened on Nov. 22, 2013 in a limited release and opened nationwide on Nov. 27.

I can enjoy a biographical film as much as the next one, but I guess, because of all of those, I’m expecting some massive amounts of serious drama. Now, don’t get me wrong, what happened to this woman is horrible and I can’t believe it happened, but from the film standpoint, overly dramatic it wasn’t.

Again, maybe I’m just used to that and it’s expected, but at the same time, it probably helped this film in some way. The film was able to have a lot of heavy drama, but not be overbearing. This film could also then capture funny and cute organic moments from the lead characters. How else could you love Dench’s slightly annoying character.

The relationship between these two strangers is oddly entertaining. While this film isn’t really a road trip film, at least not in any traditional sense of the phrase, it manages to capture a bit of that spirit. While Coogan’s character is a bit of a cynic, he shows he cares deeply about Philomena and can deal with her eccentricities. They grow through this entire ordeal and allow for genuine comedy to come about. Coogan’s also quite sarcastic, which doesn’t play as irritating.

Like Coogan’s character, the entire film, as you learn what happened to Philomena, you’re just angry. There’s probably some sadness in there, of course, but it’s mostly anger. However, even with all this anger, it’s not surprising that something like this could happen.

I noticed early on, and this is what really defined this movie as a different type of dramatic biopic was the work done by composer Alexandre Desplat (“Godzilla”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). He managed to creat a score that was perfectly light and whimsical while still allowing for dramatic undertones to play out. This helped balance the film and allow it to be a bit more fun than you’d expect. I could still laugh and be moved by the unfortunate truths that were learned throughout.

The biographical film can take you in unexpected directions. Some to dark areas of a persons life or moment in history. Some to defining moments that are full of redemption, forgiveness and even, humor. This film, like so many others, reminds us why we need film. Without it, the stories that are told in the pages of books, would get lost forever. You’d never know what you missed out on.


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