Movie review: Judi Dench shines in ‘Philomena,’ as a mother searches for her son

(LOS ANGELES) DAILY NEWSNovember 29, 2013 

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Steve Coogan and Judi Dench make an odd but likable team as their characters travel across America.

  • PHILOMENA

    •••

    Rated: PG-13 for some language. Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark. Director: Stephen Frears. Running time: 98 minutes. Theater: Flicks.

A terrible true-life story makes for a rather pleasing road movie of mismatched buddies in “Philomena.”

Steve Coogan is the disgraced but still snobby English journalist and Judi Dench is Philomena Lee, the seemingly dotty old Irish woman who join forces with Coogan’s Martin Sixsmith to hunt through America for her adult son, whom nuns essentially sold off to adoptive parents when he was a little boy.

There are cute moments, of course, as there are in just about any movie Dench makes that doesn’t have double 0s in it. But the underlying, wrenching nature of the story requires this great actress to bring forth her fortitude. In the end, it’s Philomena’s strength, mixed with an inspiring compassion, that leaves more of an impression than any sweet old Catholic lady mannerisms.

Coogan, as usual, can be relied upon to sneer and belittle his way through any potential mawkishness.

His role is to supply the righteous anger that Philomena refuses to let engulf her, while also making sure their intellectual class conflict at least looks like a fair fight (Dench, of course, has the audience sympathy advantage going in).

Stephen Frears directed, and he hasn’t done anything this well, or well-balanced, since “The Queen.”

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