“PHILOMENA” My rating: B+ (Opening wide on Nov. 27)
98 minutes | MPAA Rating: PG-13
It may be a buddy/road movie, but “Philomena” is a buddy/road movie of a singularly high order.
For starters, it’s got Judi Dench in the title role, giving one of her best performances.
The excellence continues with the screenplay by co-star Steve Coogan (with Jeff Pope) that won the top writing award at the Venice Film Fest this year.
And it jells with the direction of Stephen Frears, who approaches potentially controversial and/or maudlin material with just the right deft touch.
Inspired by a non-fiction book by Martin Sixsmith, “Philomena” describes how Sixsmith (Coogan), a former BBC newsman fired from his high-profile government job, goes looking for a story with which to reignite his journalism career.
The perfect yarn falls into his lap when he’s hooked up with Philomena Lee (Dench) , a woman who 50 years earlier gave birth to an illegitimate son in one of Ireland’s notorious Magdalene laundries run by the Catholic Church.
Against her wishes, Philomena’s son was given up for adoption by the nuns. Now she wants to track him down.
“Philomena” pulls off an high-wire balancing act. On the one hand it’s a comedy of class differences. The rather snooty Sixsmith (nobody can match Coogan when it comes to playing aloof ass-hats) is intially bemused and a bit contemptuous of the working-class Philomena, a woman addicted to bad romance novels whose idea of a big night is sitting in a hotel room watching a Martin Lawrence/”Big Momma” movie.
Coogan and Dench clearly are having a ball playing such dissimilar traveling companions.