I will be completely honest here, I usually am a stickler for people pronouncing words and titles right (I cringe when I hear people murder the pronunciation of words), but I could not for the life of me figure out how to pronounce Philomena until I saw the film. Onto the actual movie, Philomena was an intelligent, finely balanced tune that avoided the pitfalls it so easily could have stumbled upon, and exposes a certain crime that most would have had no knowledge about, while also smartly playing the religious vs. atheistic themes throughout the film.
Philomena is a true story about a reporter writing a human interests story for work and an old Irish lady whose son was forced up for adoption by nuns when she was a teenager, and the two of them going out to find her long lost son to complete the story for the atheist news reporter Martin Sixsmith (played by Steven Coogan), and for the catholic Philomena (portrayed by Judi Dench) to find the emotional closure she needs. What I was particularly impressed with when they covered this plot was how the director (Stephen Frears) avoided making it overly depressing, yes there were some emotional parts, but it never gets dreary which this story could of easily become, instead he balances it with the optimism of Philomena and well-placed humor, as well as a couple of fairly touching moments.
The most notable thing about the film, in my opinion, was how well Frears balances everything within it. There is a distinct contrast in Philomena and Sixsmith, both striving to achieve the same goals (despite a lot of butting heads), and both extremely relateable, you never detest either character despite the flaws, and each is almost justified in the actions you see them do. You see more of his balance in the atheism vs. religious themes (or more specifically the evil of Catholicism represented by the nuns in the story vs. the good of it represented by Philomena) and the contrast is so delicate in that it never fully takes a side, but it doesn't need to, it presents lessons to learn for those who take either stance, and it doesn't try at all to shove either down your throat, it is tunely balanced.
The performances in this film were also very delicate and well done. You again see how the direction of Frears had the influence on the two main actors to portray not only realistic characters, but likable ones, and neither Coogan or Dench ever come close to over acting (or under acting), their constraint is wonderful. Dench in particular has a powerful performance, and a couple of powerful moments, an Oscar nomination for her is pretty much a guarantee (and one for Coogan may be possible if he goes supporting, which would be category fraud in my opinion, he's as much of a lead as Dench is).
My favorite part of the film would have to be the ending, while it wasn't groundbreaking, it was powerful and resonated clearly. The confrontation at the end by Coogan (and Dench) was acted superbly, and brought up the thematic statement of the movie, that there is nothing good in the self-righteous, and it is often those who claim to be the most pure who cause the most hurt within the world (worst of all their fault will never be realized, for they will see themselves as perfect). Philomena's character growth is seen incredibly in the scene (as is Maxsmith's) and it is the most memorable part of the movie by far, plus the very ending that leads to the credits is an extremely touching (and funny) moment that stops the movie from ending on a down note, it reminded me of the way The Way Way Back ended in a sense.
While Philomena never goes the extra mile to become a truly memorable film (apart from the ending), it is balanced nearly perfectly, and is host to some excellent performances, and helps bring light to some real crimes that are still being committed in the name God. Truthful and revealing, yet never becoming overbearing, Philomena is a delicate film worth a viewing.
8.5/10 Sticks of Bamboo For Philomena