In September of every year, summer season at the movies comes to a close, and attention turns to the award hopefuls that begin to dominate the release schedule. As the year comes to an end, a slew of movies rush to premiere in time for awards season, and many of these films go on to battle each other for that all important Oscar nomination and awards show glory. This year, I’ve made a concerted effort to see as many of these award bait films as I can, and while many of them have either dazzled or disappointed me, the best films have been the ones that have surprised me. One such film was Philomena, a movie that I saw on a whim after seeing the trailer at an earlier night out at the movies, and while I wasn’t expecting much because the trailer seemed to tell the whole story, it nevertheless looked like fun, and so I decided to give it a go.
Philomena tells the true story of an Irish woman named Philomena Lee, who enlists the help of journalist Martin Sixsmith to help find the child she gave birth to 50 years prior. As an unmarried teenage mother in the 1950s, Philomena was forced by the church to give up her child for adoption, but decades later, on the day of her child’s fiftieth birthday, she finally reveals her secret to her family, and sets out to find her son. Starring Judi Dench as Philomena and Steve Coogan as Martin, Philomena is a delightful dramedy, as Philomena’s cheery disposition proves to be the perfect counterpoint to Martin’s straightforward and pragmatic outlook on life, and their unique partnership is comically endearing. Dench and Coogan work wonderfully together, and although the film is humorous, the ache in Dench’s eyes is palpable as she conveys the heartbreak and pain this woman has carried for so long. At the halfway point I thought I knew exactly how the film would play out, and I was thrilled to be along for the ride.
But Philomena was not content to be just another feel good human interest story. At the halfway mark, a plot point threw all that I thought I knew about the story out the window, and proved the trailer to be cunningly deceptive. I was completely drawn into this story of motherly love, but it wasn’t until the closing moments of the film that I realized just how much I had fallen in love with this women. This realization came when Dench delivered a seemingly simple line that had the remarkable effect of prompting me to burst into tears. It is not often that I cry at the movies, but there I was, sitting in a darkened theatre with tears streaming down my face, all because deep down I was passionately rooting for this wronged woman.
Movies are supposed to stir emotion within you. They are supposed to make your heart soar and your soul ache, and when a film’s story is told right, that story will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. It’s now been nearly a month since I sat in that theatre, crying over Philomena’s story, and in that time I’ve seen much more flashier fare and numerous other Oscar hopefuls, but in thinking back to my favourite films of 2013, I always come back to the quietly powerful and devastatingly beautiful story of a mother searching for her child. I may not be an Oscar member, but Philomena certainly has my vote.