Dec 11

“Philomena”: The Difficult Search for Her Long-Lost Son

The Stephen Frears-directed Philomena is based on British journalist Martin Sixsmith‘s nonfiction book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. Steve Coogan, who plays Sixsmith in the film, co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Pope.

When the film opens, Philomena (Judi Dench) is about to admit a major secret to her adult daughter: about 50 years ago, as a young unmarried woman, she gave birth to a son in an Irish convent. At the age of four Anthony was then given by the nuns to an adoptive couple—with no regard for his mother’s wishes or feelings.

Sixsmith, who’s been bounced from his civil service position in the wake of a political scandal and who’s therefore in need of career redirection, agrees to help Philomena find her son—despite his distaste for writing “human interest” stories.

Watch the trailer below:

PHILOMENA

Claudia Puig, USA Today:

Philomena is still a devout woman, despite her cruel treatment from severe Irish nuns as a young girl (sensitively played in flashbacks by Sophie Kennedy Clarke). She was bound in a kind of indentured servitude at the convent — three years of labor in the convent laundry in exchange for the medical care she and her young son received.

Philomena Lee’s cheery strength and quiet determination is deeply moving. She will not be made into a victim, nor does she lose her abiding faith.

Inkoo KangVillage Voice“‘After the sex, I thought anything so lovely must be wrong,’ the vulnerable but unflappable Philomena confesses about her first time, lowering her head in pensive regret. Her slow journey toward finally feeling worthy enough to hold her head high is surprising, upsetting, and not to be missed.”

MARTIN AND “PHIL” 

Bob Mondello, NPR: “The two meet, and click — awkwardly — and there they are, a humor-challenged, working-class grandmother yearning for her long-lost son, and a snarky, upper-crust writer yearning for redemption. Matched recovery stories: How’s that for human interest?”

Inkoo Kang, Village Voice: “Since the film’s structure is based on a series of revelations — each one unexpected and unfailingly moving — they shouldn’t be recounted here. But it gives away nothing to say that their long trip together provides plenty of opportunities for the two characters to passionately debate religion and journalistic ethics, while the friction between their worldviews offers silent commentary on the perniciousness of British class inequality.”

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: “Martin and Philomena articulate this balance literally: He questions religion, she defends it. He demands outrage, she expresses forgiveness. The movie wouldn’t stand for much of anything without such an effective team to represent the equivocating.”

MAIN THEMES

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “Director Stephen Frears compassionately chronicles an emotional personal odyssey and intelligently explores a larger socio-cultural issue. The shame that the Catholic Church imposed on unwed mothers is made palpable. The church in Ireland is also exposed for profiting from the adoptions of these babies.”

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “What’s particularly shocking is the ability of some of these women to see the unwed mothers in their charge as almost subhuman, as outside the realm of normal consideration. The result was an epic distortion of Christianity, with people lobbing first and second stones who had no business even getting near a rock.”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “…(A)t its core, this clever, wrenching, profound story underscores the tenacity of faith in the face of unfathomable cruelty. Evil may be good, story-wise. But virtue, at its most tested and tempered, is even better.”

OVERALL REVIEWS

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “Philomena makes a winning holiday movie, embodying the ideals of what the season is truly about: forgiveness, kindness and goodwill toward one’s fellow man.”

Inkoo Kang, Village Voice: “Given that grim premise, Philomena is remarkably funny, with stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan amiably sharing the comic spotlight.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “It’s profoundly moving and thoroughly mind provoking, but despite the poignant subject matter, I promise you will not leave Philomena depressed. I’ve seen it twice and felt exhilarated, informed, enriched, absorbed and optimistic both times. This is filmmaking at its most refined. I will probably forget most of what happened at the movies in 2013, but I will never forget Philomena.”

May 22

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”: Challenges of Retirement

In the new film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (For the Elderly and Beautiful), seven British retirees—one couple and five singles—are looking for something different than what they can find in their own environment and fall for the allure of falsely advertised accomodations in India. It turns out that the young man running the hotel, Sonny (Dev Patel), does have a sincere dream to rehab it into a classier place—it just isn’t anywhere near there yet. In the meantime, his idea is to find seniors from other countries who might desire a less expensive “outsourcing” of their retirement.

Probably the best part of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the excellent ensemble cast that includes Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, and more. But there are also notable moments of charm, wit, and romance as each individual struggles to move forward in his or her life despite serious obstacles, e.g., loss of a spouse, serious health and/or financial problems, etc..

Mary Pols, Time: “…a charming celebration of aging. There are brutal truths about the declining years in Best Exotic, from loneliness to financial woes that can’t be solved by getting a new job, but they are amply padded with comedy and cheery messages about acceptance; this is no bitter pill to swallow.”

The trailer for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel:

Best line, said repeatedly and with attempted cheer by Sonny: “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not the end.”

Some Pertinent Reading

Retirement expert Nancy K. Schlossberg was asked in an interview, What do we need most for a happy retirement? She stated:

We need to matter. It is important for people to believe that they count in others’ lives. The loss of the challenge of the work itself, the relationship with colleagues, the connection to an environment, an office to go to, and the daily routines can leave people wondering whether they matter anymore. We all need to figure out ways to bolster our own sense that we count.

Her book Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose (2009) offers helpful tips for those seeking to make retirement a more fulfilling experience.

Gene D. Cohen, MD, PhD, Director, Center on Aging, Health and Humanities, The George Washington University: “Concepts like the Psychological Portfolio, reflecting a depth of understanding and wisdom, take you on a positive journey in relation to personal identity, purpose, and relationships. This book is not about making the best of, but creating the best in retirement.”