Screen

Film review: ‘Philomena’ is a treacly feel-good story

Image

Two and a half stars

Philomena Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark. Directed by Stephen Frears. Rated PG-13. Now playing.

British journalist Martin Sixsmith recently told The Guardian that he didn’t mind being portrayed as “a bit of an upper-class prat who takes himself too seriously” in Philomena, the movie based on Sixsmith’s book about an Irish woman searching for the child she was forced to give up for adoption 50 years earlier. The movie’s early portrayal of Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan, who also co-wrote the screenplay) is a necessary component of its weepy, feel-good narrative, in which the cynical, opportunistic journalist has his heart melted by the plight of lovable old lady Philomena Lee (Judi Dench). After getting pregnant out of wedlock in 1952, Philomena was sent to a convent, where her son was eventually taken from her and adopted by a well-to-do couple.

Coogan and Dench are both talented actors who play their parts effectively, and their warm performances smooth over the tearjerking conventions of the narrative. It’s hard not to be moved by Philomena’s real-life journey, but the movie turns out to be as cynical as its version of Sixsmith, tugging on heartstrings at every possible turn and relying on Dench to class up its groan-worthy clueless-old-lady jokes. She does as much as she can, but the experience still turns out to be fundamentally hollow.

Share

Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

Get more Josh Bell
  • Everything in theaters this week, plus special screenings and movie reviews.

  • The somber, oppressive tone extends to the performances and the writing, but the worst thing about American Gods is its absurdly slow pace.

  • The show has a point to make, but part of that point is simply to depict the lives of people who are too often relegated ...

  • Get More Film Stories
Top of Story