Philomena ★★★½

Had low expectations going in but was pleasantly surprised. It never hammers on the sentiment that you would expect with this story in the hands of a Nancy Meyers or someone else that would add a thick layer of polish and slickness on top. Stephen Frears direction is a little peculiar at times, with Steve Coogan's performance having a couple of toes over into that glossier, more pitter-patter version this could have been. The story is genuinely surprising and moving: you think we're leading up to a singular emotional conclusion, but then real life throws a wrench into the typical scriptwriting gears midway through. It smartly addresses the elephant in the room, the craven ambition-obsessed journalist's exploitation of a poor woman's tragic story, so as to make it a quid pro quo situation and remove some of the cliched drama. And yes there are Big Discussions about faith and cynicism, the ability to forgive, etc. But it's never too sappy. Judi Dench as an extremely literal Irish lady is charming.

Bummer the son became a Republican tho. Definitely docked a few sympathy points when you go work and defend the Reagan administration.