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 Coogans 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 doesnt 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, its Philomenas 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 hasnt done anything this well, or well-balanced, since The Queen.