March 1, 2014

Philomena (2013)

Judi Dench, Steve Coogan

I recently took the StrengthsFinder test and it turns out - surprise! - one of my strengths is empathy.
(wouldn't have guessed that, huh?) Well, it seems empathy is both a blessing and a curse because it makes watching movies really intense for me. In fact, it's the reason I can't watch horror movies. I empathize so fiercely with the characters in the movie that I literally believe the killer is coming for me next. And yes, I realize how ridiculous this sounds, in broad daylight, from behind the safety of my computer now, but when my eyes are glued to that screen? I am empathizing my way into a heart attack. [**note: I tried to put a scary little gif in here to emphasize my point, but got too scared and had to stop searching**]

In the case of Philomena, I empathized my way through a box of tissues. Although, having gone through the horrible process of childbirth myself, I didn't have to stretch quite as much to imagine how horrifying it would feel to have my kids taken away from me - from nuns, no less. As you can imagine, my comments on parenting usually fall on the sarcastic side and my personal mantra is "there's nothing I can do to them that therapy can't fix later." But watching this movie triggered my inner Colombiana - I wanted to go on a crazy rampage for this woman until someone told her where her son was. I mean, I would preferred the rampage happen before her son were ever taken away, but...

Those damn nuns. Sigh. I've never felt so happy to not be Catholic in my life. Between this and Doubt, I'd probably walk around apologizing to everyone just for having seen the movies. I was married by an Irish Catholic priest and I have half a mind to go question him about his knowledge of these events. I generally try not to spend a lot of time in my life getting too worked up over religion or politics because I prefer to make awkward jokes instead of arguing. But this movie makes it almost impossible to avoid that, so I'll just leave it at... damn nuns.

With so many films this year based on biographies, it's difficult sometimes to decide whether we are comparing the films themselves or just who had a more interesting life story. But what stood out to me about this film compared to say, Captain Phillips, was the beautiful adaptation of the story into a screenplay. I was surprised by how much the screenwriter actually changed, yet it all felt completely believable and yet still somehow true to spirit of the original story. And like The Wolf of Wall Street, the outcome is not necessarily what you'd want, but that's what makes biographies interesting - you don't get to change someone else's life decisions just to satisfy your ideal resolution.

A closing thought (and plea to the undoubtedly numerous Academy voters reading my blog) - this was the most enjoyable Oscar movie of the year. I thought it showed a realness that many of the other movies lacked (I continually had to pinch myself throughout The Wolf of Wall Street to remind myself that it was based on a biography because it was so outrageous), yet retained enough excitement for the audience to stay awake through the whole thing (I'm talking to you, Nebraska). And twenty years from now, this movie will still be just as poignant, heartbreaking, funny, and true. Shouldn't that count for something?

Final word: Loved it. And I'm definitely never converting to Catholicism. 

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