This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Ella’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
"I did not abandon my child."
I feel odd saying this about a film based on a true story, and one that, upon further research, didn't take much dramatic license, but Philomena is one of the most blissfully unpredictable films I have seen in recent memory. I went into the film expecting a story that began with a woman trying to find her son 50 years after he was taken away from her, and ended with them embracing, mother and son together again, everyone lives happily ever after.
But after the rug is pulled out from beneath you in a big way pretty early on, it's obvious that the ending that is traditional but one hopes will happen in a true story is not happening, and you're now absolutely clueless as to what's going to happen. What follows is a wonderful film, filled with surprise and emotion (yeah I was crying within 5 minutes...especially at the bit with the photo), but never feeling cheaply sentimental.
This is due to some great writing from Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan (from the first scene I knew I was in for a treat), where the dramatic moments don't feel schmaltzy and the humour that peppers the lighter moments doesn't feel forced. Coogan and Judi Dench both give great performances, and really have a great dynamic, whether it's a moment of banter about a book that Philomena is reading, or a crucial point in the search has been reached.
Another thing that really surprised me was the flash back parts. They were quite harrowing and confronting, very well done and definitely didn't tip toe around anything, flowing seamlessly with the rest of the film, not being uneven. Their placement is also well done, throwing the audience right into the deep end of the background information, getting them at the beginning of the film to really understand what went on in these convents, in order to understand the need to go on the journey in the first place, the emotional pull that Philomena feels and why, regardless of if the viewer has children or not.
If you were considering reading more about Philomena before seeing it, don't. While I'm not certain that it's worthy to be Best Picture nominated, it's a great film. You'll gasp with utter surprise and sympathy, laugh, and cry.