“Philomena” is hard-to-resist Oscar bait. And according to the early reviews out of the Venice Film Festival, where the BBC Films production starring Oscar winner Judi Dench and Steve Coogan debuted, the audience bit in a big way. (Watch the trailer. Note: adult language.)
Directed by “The Queen” helmer Stephen Frears from a script Coogan wrote with Jeff Pope, “Philomena” tells the story of a down-on-his-luck journalist who teams up with an older woman (Dench) who years ago saw her son taken away after she became pregnant as a teenager and was forced into a convent.
The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin called the brisk 94-minute movie a “crowd-delighter,” wooing audience members who were sobbing and clapping at the film’s conclusion.
The movie is based on a true story of Irish woman Philomena Lee’s 50-year struggle to find her son, who was sold for adoption in America, as told by Martin Sixsmith in his 2009 book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and a Fifty-Year Search.”
Coogan plays Sixsmith, who himself was ousted unceremoniously from his position as an advisor in Tony Blair’s government and reluctantly falls back into his old profession as a journalist.
Indiewire called it a “guaranteed recipe for box office success.” The publication adds, “The story, and Dench, could have easily lapsed into a treacly pit, and while the ‘cute Irish lady’ card is definitely played, it’s presented in a compellingly joyous fashion so that it never grates.”
Variety’s Justin Chang was also positive, though slightly less effusive, writing, “This smug but effective middlebrow crowdpleaser boasts a sharper set of dentures than most films of its type, shrewdly mining its material for laughs and righteous anger as well as tears.”
The positive reviews out of Venice have prompted Weinstein Co. to slate the British flick for release in the U.S. on Chistmas Day in New York and Los Angeles before expanding nationwide in early January.