The Secret Life of Judi Dench and a dysfunctional family.

From the 4th- 6th of June, I had the pleasure of a trip to the cinema not once, not twice but three times! I was one happy cinephile, let me tell you. The three movies in question were Philomena, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and August: Osage County- all very different, all with their own merits…

Philomena (directed by Stephen Frears and starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan)

Disgraced former journalist and political spin doctor Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan, who also co-wrote the script) agrees to help an elderly Irish woman find her lost son, who was adopted through the Catholic church fifty years earlier.

From the outset of the film, it is clear that the filmmakers are taking part in a precarious balancing act between comedy and drama. Thankfully, this dance is pulled off beautifully. The story naturally  alternates between buddy comedy and genuinely emotional conflict as Sixsmith and Lee (which sounds like an accounting firm, come to think of it) journey  from Ireland to America in search of closure. I can’t think of another film I’ve seen this year which had audiences laughing so loudly , or has inspired such deep discussion among my fellow moviegoers after the credits rolled.

Some would argue that the film is anti-Catholic. I personally don’t believe this to be the case, because it strikes me that the faith of Philomena Lee was, and is, a strong testimony of God’s love. Yes, terrible things have been done in His name and unfortunately continue to happen, but in a film that could have easily been cynical, the character of it’s main player shines through.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (directed by Ben Stiller, starring Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig)

The only thing this movie did for me was make me lament the gradual demise of print as a medium. Okay, that might be a little bit harsh, let me backtrack. As an avid daydreamer myself, I was attracted to the premise of a quiet, average joe escaping the mundane through his mind. However, unlike your’s truly, Walter gets to live out his fantasy (to a degree) by going on an adventure to find a lost film negative. This little excursion of  self discovery (and volcano skateboarding) is set in motion by the fact that Life magazine is ceasing publication (which actually happened in 2007…) and it’s up to the hapless Mitty (as a ‘negative assets manager’)  to recover the negative in order for it to be used as the cover of Life’s  final issue.

This film’s most obvious strength is it’s visual inventiveness. Director Ben Stiller has obviously taken a leaf from the Wes Anderson book of appealing colour use, and the world he creates is pretty and, at times, awe inspiring- particularly when the action moves to exotic locales such as Iceland and Afghanistan. More than once, I found myself wanting to frame what was on screen and hang it on my wall. Both the “real life” adventures and the daydreams are fun to watch (minus the awkward ‘Benjamin Button’ parody) and the cast seem to be enjoying themselves.

This is all well and good, but where this film fails is it’s lack of emotional involvement. Yeah, I know that it’s a fable (albeit a slickly packaged, cutesy one) but for it to be effective, a fable needs to have an emotional core beyond the “life is an adventure’ creed that it shouts at every conceivable opportunity. I suppose I liked Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty, but only because he didn’t annoy me. In short, it’s a harmless film, nicely shot but without a strong core to really draw the viewer in.


August: Osage County (starring Meryl Streep, Julia Robert and quite a few other famous actors)

Of all the films on this list, I’ve found this one the most difficult to review. That’s not to say it is  bad movie, nor is it a particularly confusing plot-wise. In fact, it’s quite simple; the disappearance of the alcoholic Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) leads the middle-aged Weston daughters (played by Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and  Julianne Nicholson respectively) and their families to rally in support of the ailing  matriarch Violet. When the family reunite, old resentments and some truly disturbing secrets come to light.

Violet, (played with scene-stealing relish by Meryl Streep) can only be described as venomous. Manipulative and cutting, even when high/low on pills, Violet uses family secrets, uncanny insight and strategic moments of vulnerability (and some truly artistic swearing) to manipulate her explosive family. The film is dark and tense enough as it is, and whenever Violet opens her cancer-ridden mouth the cramped, dank house threatens to explode. Each one of the characters has their own secrets and flaws, and this is what makes the film so difficult to like. Perhaps we’re not meant too like it; we are invited into the Weston household as casual observers of a a climatic clash that could only be created  by two generations mired in dysfunction. It is unpleasant and cynical, but undeniably interesting

August: Osage County is a puzzling film. It does not contain  a narrative arc so much as a ambiguous cycle- one that threatens to entrap all who remain in the County.



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