Enjoying a long holiday weekend, I decided to catch a showing of Philomena this morning. Dame Judi Dench has been getting rave reviews, and with the film currently at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes I thought I better size up the "competition." I know, I know, film awards shouldn't be about competing, but I expect Meryl to be in contention for recognition for her work in August: Osage County so it's fun to have motivation to do a bit of comparative shopping on this Black Friday.
The crux of the story is that Dench portrays real-life woman Philomena Lee, an Irish woman had her out-of-wedlock son taken away from her while staying in a convent. She is helped in her quest to find him fifty years later by a journalist who has been convinced to write a human interest story about the effort.
My gut reaction was that Dench was very effective (as usual) in her portrayal of Lee and I overall enjoyed the film. But I can't help feeling that the story itself is best thing when compared to both the film and Dench's performance. Without going into spoiler territory, the fact that it was a true story was almost unbelievable, in that reading the events of Lee's life at the convent may have given me just as strong of a reaction as if I were to see it unfold onscreen. This doesn't take away from how well the film is directed by Stephen Frears or the excellent jobs that both Dench and her co-star Steve Coogan manage to do. It just didn't seem like a portrayal that was something drastically different from what I've seen from Dench give us before.
I would not consider this the best performance I've seen from Dench in her career. Her turns in Mrs. Brown and Notes on a Scandal are superior in my book, and in a year with so many heavy performances from major players in high-profile films, I think it'll be tough to squeak out a win for the Oscar. I'd be shocked if she were not nominated, however. Among the top contenders I've seen so far this season for Best Actress, I'd rank their performances as follows:
1. Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
2. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
3. Judi Dench (Philomena)
4. Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
I'm very much looking forward to seeing Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color), Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) and Amy Adams (American Hustle) in the coming weeks.