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” 

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.”

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.”

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 08

“What Maisie Knew” Will Require Some Therapy Someday

What Maisie Knew is a film adaptation of a Henry James novel updated to a contemporary setting. Neither mothers nor fathers, however, are at all idealized.

A Very Brief Summary of What Maisie Knew

From the eyes of a six-year-old girl, a traumatic childhood: Maisie’s parents’ relationship disintegrates. They remarry. They inappropriately place her in the middle of their issues. They leave most of the subsequent caretaking to their new spouses.

The Child

Linda Holmes, NPR: “There’s no mugging and no sobbing; she is heartbreaking because she is transparently processing the fact that while her parents are willing to fight over her, they will not in fact choose her, over either their other interests or their conflict.”

Justin Chang, Variety: “Scribes Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne approximate the intimate child’s perspective James achieved on the page by placing Maisie (Aprile) in every scene, continually reminding the viewer of the invisible trauma being inflicted by two thoughtless individuals on the person most deserving of their care and attention.”

There’s Therapy in Maisie’s Future

Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly: “She might as well be invisible, but she hears everything. And here’s the only good news: Onata Aprile, the young actress who plays the adorable moppet trapped in this bitter custody tug-of-war, is heartbreakingly good. All you have to do is take one look into her wide, sad eyes to know she’s internalizing all the vicious white noise. You also suspect that she’s going to spend most of her teenage years in marathon therapy sessions.”

The Parents of What Maisie Knew

Justin Chang, Variety: “…(H)er parents, fiery-tempered rock musician Susanna (Julianne Moore) and perpetually distracted art dealer Beale (Steve Coogan), have divorced, leaving their soft-spoken, well-behaved daughter to drift between their respective Manhattan apartments. Each parent wants custody for all the wrong reasons, as it soon becomes infuriatingly clear that, despite their superficial expressions of affection, they’re more interested in using Maisie as a weapon against each other than in serving her best interests.”

The Dad

Sheila O’Malleyrogerebert.com: “Steve Coogan, in his few scenes, is terrifying. It’s a great portrayal of unfettered narcissism. He has one moment, in the back of a cab, saying goodbye to Maisie, that is as good as anything he has ever done. For just a moment, you see him understand, and actually feel, his own terrible nature.”

The Mom

Justin Chang, Variety: “It’s Susanna, trying to convince Maisie and herself that she’s a good mother, who arguably winds up doing the greater damage, and Moore acts with a white-hot fury that sends waves of resentment and self-pity flying in all directions.”

The New Spouses

Rex Reed, New York Observer:

…Susanna’s new husband is a sweet, sensitive bartender named Lincoln (versatile, appealing Alexander Skarsgård) who shows Maisie the kind of sincere compassion she never had from her own dad, and Beale runs away with the nanny, a kind-hearted girl named Margo (Joanna Vanderham) whose maternal instincts seem genuine instead of the phony play-acting Maisie gets from her real mother. At first, these replacements fill tertiary positions, but eventually they do something Maisie has never experienced—they become real friendsOne of the things Maisie learns is that loneliness is not restricted to only one age, gender or legal document. Both Lincoln and Margo are neglected and unloved. Maisie has always been the one left out of the equation, the lockbox where the grownups deposit their fears, tears and anxieties. Surprisingly, it is now up to a child to make the adults feel wanted. Unwillingly, they eventually become playmates, guardians and surrogate parents to the little girl who needs them, and the two most unconditionally devoted people Maisie knows are the two people who have landed in her life by accident.