Mobi’s Moscars – Part 3
Continuing my mini-reviews of all the Oscar-nominated films.
I liked this movie.
Superbly acted by Judy Dench and a somewhat subdued Steve Coogan in the lead roles, this film is yet another screen adaptation of a true story.
I am not a huge fan of Steve Coogan, as while conceding that he is a talented writer and comic actor, I have always felt that most of his performances are merely ‘re-runs’ of his first and finest creation – the infamous Alan Partridge. I used to love the original Alan Partridge TV series, when he was a spoof TV chat show host, but most of what has followed from Coogan’s comedic chest , apart from the odd genuinely funny line, has left me pretty cold.
Everything that Coogan has done since those early days of Alan Partridge to my mind he was still Alan Partridge, and the joke has long since grown somewhat tired. It seems that few, if any critics and reviewers were willing to admit this, maybe for fear of somehow appearing to be un-cool….
Then Philomena came along. Coogan not only co-wrote this brilliantly funny and poignant screenplay, but also provided the performance of his life. If this had been a year when there were not so many outstanding candidates for the best actor Oscar, then I am sure he would have been in with a shout.
On the face of it, the story seems a bit grim – and indeed it is. But the screenplay and superlative acting conspire to ensure the movie rises above what might have been just another depressing attack on the scandals of the catholic church, to the level of something that is a lot more heartening and entertaining.
It is the true story of an elderly Irish woman who tries to trace her son who she was forced to give up for adoption by catholic nuns back in the 1950’s, when she conceived and delivered out of wedlock. She herself was forced to live at the convent and work in the convent laundry until she became a legal adult.
Helping her in this task is Martin Sixsmith, (Coogan), a one-time BBC reporter who became a spin doctor for the first Labour government before being made a scapegoat and dismissed in disgrace.
A disillusioned and cynical Sixsmith somewhat reluctantly takes on the project to help Philomena track down her baby and write the story for an even more hard-bitten magazine editor.
The unlikely couple, travel to Ireland and then to the USA, and finally back to Ireland in their efforts to track down Philomena’s long lost son.
The interaction between the ‘odd couple’ is magical. It is humorous, sad and ultimately enriching as two people from very different worlds and backgrounds join together on a journey of discovery.
This is in a world which contains a cruel, narrow-minded and self-righteous church that still functions with impunity, and a world in which someone like Philomena has so much strength from her simple, catholic faith that she seeks no vengeance for what happened to her, and to thousands like her.
She simply wants to find her son.
Predictably, Sixsmith rails against the terrible injustices.
From the opening credits, you never doubt for one second that you are watching real people behaving in real situations and you become totally immersed in their fascinating quest. The film’s 98 minutes flash by.
Philomena has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Screen play and Best Music. I doubt it will win any.
But go see it – you will be entertained, I promise you.
I had a lot of trouble tracking this movie down, and when I finally got round to seeing it, I still wonder whether the effort was worthwhile.
Watching a film like Nebraska makes me wonder what exactly is the purpose of watching a movie?
Well, for me, here are a few possible reasons and some of the feelings I expect to experience when I watch a good film.
- Amusement, laughs
- Excitement, thrills
- Shock, fear, horror
- Personal edification & knowledge
- Enrichment, inspiration
- sentiment and nostalgia.
So where does Nebraska fit in ?
I confess that for about the first 20 minutes, I found the subject matter so dire that I almost gave up, and the only reason I kept going was because I had undertaken to write a small review, which I could hardly do if I didn’t watch it.
Thankfully, it did start to get a little better and in the end I was able to watch the remainder without resorting to ‘fast forward’ or the ‘off’ button.
So what was so bad about it? (I hear you asking.)
Let me start by saying what was good about it.
It was well-acted; it was beautifully filmed, (within seconds you forget that the film is in black and white, as the cinematography is so riveting); it was well- written; it was well directed; and, very occasionally it was mildly amusing.
So what was wrong with it then???
It was so fucking depressing!
It is a road movie about a senile, alcoholic old man thinks he has won a million dollars when he receives a scam magazine subscription flyer and is determined to travel nearly a thousand miles across America to claim his prize.
I suppose hypothetically it could have been written with a fair measure of humour, but sadly, it wasn’t. The old man is a a very unpleasant, cantankerous old bastard, and by all accounts he always had been – according to his two, not particularly charismatic sons. His wife clearly hates him and can’t wait to have him put in a home.
His youngest son has a dead-end job selling home hi-fi systems to people who don’t want them in the middle of a recession and just about everyone in the movie appears to be in financial straights.
The old man’s son is somehow persuaded to drive his senile father across country to claim his non-existent prize and on the way they stop at the old man’s home town where his long forgotten friends and some of his relatives still live.
While there, he stays with more depressing family who have two dreadful sons who believe his silly millionaire story and try to rob him of the winning ticket. Other relatives come to visit and fights break out as they and other old friends decide it is payback time and demand some of the winnings from the senile old man.
But you don’t really feel sorry for the senile old bastard as he has absolutely zero redeeming qualities. You just don’t care.
I could go on and on but it’s too depressing to write about.
The director is Alexander Payne who directed the wonderful film, ‘About Schmidt’ – which is another road movie that starred the brilliant Jack Nicholson in his prime.
‘About Schmidt’ was as wonderful is ‘Nebraska’ is dire.
Nebraska is mid-numbingly brutal on the senses. It has no uplifting moments, not even near the end, when the son puts his father behind the wheel of a truck to give him a few moments of rare happiness.
Sure, there are occasional moments of mild amusement in the second part of the movie, such as when the two sons, in an effort to repay a supposed grudge of 30 years standing, steal an a ancient compressor from the wrong, (run-down) farm, but believe me, they are few are far between and they really ain’t very funny.
Indeed, everyone in the movie seems to bear grudges against everyone else and there is total absence of anything approaching goodwill or love – or even common to garden pity.
The overriding message of this movie is just how depressingly awful are some of these small-towns that criss-cross the great American landscape, and how miserable and impoverished are its inhabitants – especially when they grow old and start to lose their marbles.
The professional reviewers are just purring about this movie and they all think it is one of the finest films of the year. Even most of the user reviewers on IMDB are positively glowing and it gets an incredible star rating of 7.2 out of 10.
I suppose if you want to spend just under two hours being depressed by alcoholism, senility, poverty, slimy fast-food outlets, dusty, cheerless bars, couch potato TV addicts, unfulfilled lives, greed, jealousy, bigoted ignorance and all the horrors of grim, Hicksville America, then this is the movie for you.
It’s kind of strange –Americans seem to really like this movie, yet to me, if accurate,it’s an embarrassing indictment on small town America.
For the record, back in 2,000 I drove right across Hicksville America and what I found was a million miles removed from the towns and folk as portrayed in the movie, Nebraska.
I find it difficult to believe that such communities with such unremittingly grim inhabitants exist in quite the way depicted in this movie.
But Director Payne was actually born in Nebraska, (of Greek descent) so maybe he knows better than me…..
Next week: Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Gravity.