Philomena ★★★

Judy Dench. That is all.

Oh, okay, if I must.

Look... there are Catholics so wise and generous and insightful that they would melt cynicism with a simple, Pope Francis-like gesture (which would be, of course, a Christ-like gesture).

And there are also Catholics who commit horrible crimes in the name of the church.

And there is every variety inbetween.

Kind of like the range of people you'll find under other labels like Republican, Democrat, American, and agnostic.

This is a film about stuff that happened. I don't expect it to be 100% factual — but I do expect it to fairly represent human nature, without leaning too far into Thomas Kinkade-ishly perfect or the Disney-villain-ish bad. This movie leans a little too far in the cartoonish-villains direction by not giving the villains enough screen time to represent themselves sufficiently. But... it only leans that direction enough to irritate, not enough to spoil anything. For the most part, this is a recognizably human story, with recognizably human characters.

(I'm inclined to think that Catholics who yell and scream in protest over how this film paints Catholics are only going to succeed in confirming the worst stereotypes of Catholics. Better to lead with "Did we really carry out injustice? If so, what can we do to make amends?" then to get caught griping about how "These filmmakers hate Catholics!")

I don't care too much if Catholics — liberal or conservative — come off looking good. Or agnostics, for that matter. What I care about is this: Do the teachings of Christ shine through? Does the film demonstrate the damages of sin, the rewards of faith, and the freedom that is found through love, grace, and forgiveness? Does Jesus' call to follow him remain the narrow path to salvation? I'd say that's the case here.

Does it sentimentalize? Yes. Is it an Oscar-season crowdpleaser? Yes. The Oscar season makes it difficult to discuss movies like this, because the conversation is corrupted by the competition. I recently went back and watched The King's Speech and quite enjoyed it, where I was very frustrated with it in the heat of debates over Oscars. I'm learning from experiences like that.

I think this is a good-hearted, lovingly crafted little crowdpleaser. Why make a fuss? Enjoy.

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