Philomena (2013)

PhilomenaReleased: November 27, 2013. Directed by: Stephen Frears. Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark. Runtime: 98 min.

Today, teenage pregnancy is a commonplace. There’s even a TV show about young pregnant girls called “16 and Pregnant” that premiered back in 2009. It seems like a stupid premise to me, but it shows how accepting people are of it these days. Back in 1960s Ireland, around the time of the Magdalene sister homes, if a young girl was pregnant – a lot of parents would be so ashamed that they’d disown their children and force them to live in a convent. They wouldn’t have any other place to go, and they’d have to work their asses off to repay the nuns.

This is what happened to Philomena Lee, a 16-year-old who had a child, and when her son was about 3 years old, he was adopted. Ever since, Philomena (Judi Dench) has kept this a secret. On the son’s fiftieth birthday, Phil (now in her 60s) tells her daughter about Anthony – and with their luck, they find a political journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who was recently let go from his job, to take on this human interest story.

After fifty years of Philomena not knowing where or how her son is doing, the pair set off to find Philomena’s son, following leads and information the convent might possess; which, unfortunately, isn’t much to go on. Martin has to use his journalistic skills to find where the son might be. One reason this film is so charming is because these characters are so different. Martin is a bit more realistic thinker who thinks questions like ‘Do you believe in God’ are difficult to answer. He’s more pessimistic than Philomena; but almost equally funny. Philomena is one of those people is genuinely interested in people say, and she finds humour in the simplest of things – even if she doesn’t realize that she’s being hilarious. That’s what helps make this a simple comedy in parts. It’s lightly entertaining but it’s an effective drama, too. It’s a different sort-of road trip film, but a refreshing one.

I’m glad that there is a surprising layer of great comedy, because without it the film would be boring. That’s a reason I was hesitant to see this, because the story sounds like it could be good, but it also sounded slow to me. Judi Dench’s great performance helps; she plays a character who only wants to know how her son’s life is going, and know if he’s ever thought of her. Like I said, she is very funny, as well. She is a character who carries around this secret and its shame hand in hand. I think Steve Coogan’s performance is great here, as well, because his comic delivery is just priceless. He is considerate of Philomena’s wishes, and doesn’t always feel like a journalist in it for the money. I think he’s an underrated actor. He impressed me here as an actor and as a co-screenwriter – I’m sure he had a big hand in the witty dialogue.

The friendship that is created is charming. The characters’ beliefs are challenged throughout from what they learn along the way. This is also an ideal film for schools that might want to express the Catholics’ beliefs back in the 1960s; it seems to me some nuns still hold those beliefs. Those would be the old-fashioned ones. I think this is a film that should be experienced because of its subject matter. It’s powerful and is emotionally gripping. It’s the idea of being taken away from one’s family that gets to me. I mean, if anyone tried to take me away from my mother, heads would freaking roll!

There’s a quote commonly used by critics “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” and oftentimes, those can only be applied to great films. Only so many directors and writers have that ability. Alexander Payne has a true knack for it, and even his co-writers on “The Descendants” Nat Faxon and Jim Rash do, too, as expressed in “The Way, Way Back.” This film’s director, Stephen Frears (“The Queen”) has a talent for it as well. I laughed a lot with this one, but for me, the “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” line can only partly be applied.

There’s enough emotional content here to make many people cry – because this is such a powerful subject. I didn’t cry, because it takes a lot for me to cry at a film. This might sound cheesy, but even though I didn’t cry on the outside, my soul ached for Philomena in parts – because she is just such a likeable and often relateable character. I relate to her because she likes “Big Momma’s House.” She at least laughs at a preview on hotel Pay Per View (also giving an idea of what year it is, because there are more new releases then older releases, so this film is set in 2000 or 2001). I hope she got around to watching that movie.

Score80/100

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The Babymakers (2012)

The BabymakersRelease Date: August 24, 2012

Director: Jay Chandrasekhar

Stars: Paul Schneider, Olivia Munn, Kevin Heffernan

Runtime: 95 min

Everyone likes a good comedy that doesn’t make them think every once in awhile, right? I call them brain vacations. I love them as much as the next guy – but the keyword is a good comedy. A good comedy, THE BABYMAKERS is not.

The movie follows Tommy (Paul Schneider), a man who cannot impregnate his wife. (His sperm has fallen and it can’t get up.) He decides to enlist the help of his buddies to steal some sperm he donated a few years ago.

From the get go, I should have known this would be a tedious experience for me. I guess I was blinded by my love for the Broken Lizard crew – and their involvement in any project. They’re only slightly involved, here. They don’t have a hand in the writing. Jay Chandrasekhar directs and helps produce; Kevin Heffernan helps produce, and he is one of the supporting actors. Oscar-winning Nat Faxon brings in a supporting turn, as well – and while he isn’t part of the main Broken Lizard crew, he often shows up in their movies. He was that one villain in BEERFEST with the horrid German accent. Like that narrows it down, right? And yes, you did read *Oscar-winning* correctly; he won it for co-writing the screenplay for THE DESCENDANTS, alongside Alexander Payne and the Dean on TV’s COMMUNITY, Jim Rash. (He’s actually a talented writer – and I’m quite excited for Faxon & Rash’s co-directorial debut, THE WAY, WAY BACK.) Anyway, as much as I love the Broken Lizard movies, this movie isn’t good. It seriously needs their writing.

I think I laughed a total of four or five times. The Jehova’s Witness scene feels like a very honest portrayal of their interruptions of everyday activities. The humour is shallow, and it’s mostly just a movie younger boys might enjoy. I think this movie might have worked a lot better if the whole Broken Lizard crew came aboard – but that might not even help. Chandrasekhar and Heffernan weren’t able to make me laugh a lot because of its predictable humour, inane plotting and poor writing. One of the stupidest things about the movie is the robbery itself. Honestly… If one robs a sperm bank and only takes one vial of sperm; who might the prime suspect be? Gee, I don’t know… I also don’t think Paul Schneider is a likeable enough lead to carry this film well. Nor is he very funny. He might be good in other movies, but based on what I’ve seen of him so far, I’m not impressed.

This movie just falls flat on its unfunny face. There’s an evident plot, but it isn’t a particularly good one. It’s a very stupid heist movie. You probably haven’t heard of this, but if you have, just take it off your watchlist. It’s a colossal waste of time. By the end of it all, you really just won’t care any more if they have a baby or not. The sexy Olivia Munn can’t even save this. Nor those cantaloupes. (Not her boobs. There’s a running joke of cantaloupes on a magazine cover getting everyone horny.)

30/100