Tag Archives: The Trip

Philomena

philomena filmWalking into this movie, I knew nothing about it. I knew it starred Steve Coogan and Judi Dench, and that Judi Dench was nominated for her 7th Oscar for this role. Not much else you need to know, really.

I’m glad I didn’t know the plot of the movie beforehand (it’s based on a true story, but not one I was familiar with).  It had some unexpected twists, even though it’s not the type of movie that relies upon plot twists to keep you entertained and interested.

Steve Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith, an ex-journalist who recently lost his job in the Blair administration–the movie takes place in the early 2000s. He’s a smart, cynical, atheist…a bit of a misanthrope.  Steve Coogan co-wrote the movie.  It seems he really enjoys playing these disaffected, cynical intellectuals who quote Coleridge or T.S. Eliot, and are always accompanied by a cheerier, more functional person.  I found a lot of similarities between this movie and The Trip, partially because of that odd couple camaraderie.  Instead of Rob Brydon, Coogan’s co-star is Judi Dench, playing the real life Philomena Lee.

Philomena, an Irish girl, fell pregnant when she was still a teenager. Relegated to a nearby abbey, she was at the mercy of the nuns there.  They helped her survive childbirth, they took care of the child, and they took care of her.  But she had to work 4 years at the abbey without pay, in exchange for that. There were many young girls there, unmarried ‘sinners’, and their children.  The children were put up for adoption.  Much to Philomena’s horror, they take away her son Anthony without giving her any chance to say goodbye, without even telling her he is leaving.

She keeps her secret for nearly her entire life, only revealing it to her daughter 50 years later.  Her daughter happens upon Martin Sixsmith, who thinks he might use the story to get back into journalism. The unlikely duo begin an investigation to find Anthony, to meet him if possible.

I won’t give anything else away. Here’s the trailer:

Steve Coogan does a great job being simultaneously an understandable, if grumpy figure, and also being somewhat rude, selfish, and lacking in compassion.  As a bit of a misanthrope atheist myself, I can be pretty empathetic about that.

Judi Dench, though!  Amazing.  Look, Judi Dench is a dame, an incredibly accomplished actress, and a very imposing figure. I saw video of her as Lady Macbeth (Ian McKellen was Macbeth), and she was terrifying. Daunting, physically.  And we’ve seen her play Queen Elizabeth I, and be just as empowered, just as daunting.  And M in the Bond movies is not exactly Blanche Dubois.  They’re all very powerful, independent, strong women.

Philomena Lee is a very strong woman, a very brave woman.  But she’s not intimidating.  Not the way Judi Dench plays her.  She’s strong, but she’s soft and simple.  Not simple meaning stupid, simple meaning…uncomplicated by all the bullshit most of us spend our time on.  Able to enjoy simple pleasures, able to be pleasantly surprised by the endings of thoroughly repetitive romance novels. Someone who takes pleasure in conversation, in new experiences.  She’s compassionate, open-minded, and has a lot more wisdom than Steve Coogan’s character. And Judi Dench plays on that perfectly.  When Philomena Lee works up her strength to make something happen, she does it.  You can see frailty and age in her movements and her face, but you also see a complete resolution and an obstinate nature.  She, an elderly Irish woman, holds her own against Sixsmith, a published journalist, ex-civil servant, a loud, opinionated man.  She is, actually, a really great character.  Perfectly played by Judi Dench.

I said I wouldn’t give any more away, but I will just say this.  I always knew there was a reason I didn’t trust nuns. They’re terrifying.

And since I’ve mentioned The Trip, I’ll also mention that they’re making a sequel. It’s called The Trip to Italy, features more Michael Caine impressions, and comes out in May.

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TV review: Gavin and Stacey

I don’t think I would have ever gotten around to watching this show if it weren’t for this blog post.  Netflix kept suggesting it to me, because Netflix knows all about my love of British TV, but the cover of the DVDs

makes it look a lot like a weird version of Friends, and I was flashing back to that horrible American version of Coupling for some reason. I just wasn’t into it.

I’m so glad I gave it a try though, because I really enjoyed the entire series.  There are three seasons and a Christmas special, though strangely the special comes before the third season.

The story is about the eponymous Gavin and Stacey, initially, but it expands to include the lives of their entire extended families and close friends, particularly Gavin’s bff Smithy and Stacey’s bff Nessa.  Gavin and Stacey meet online and start to fall in love, and the show begins with them finally meeting in person.  Gavin brings Smithy and Stacey brings Nessa. The four of them get very drunk and the two couples sort of go their separate ways and hook up.  Smithy and Nessa are played by James Corden and Ruth Jones, who created the series.  Gavin is played by the adorable Matthew Horne (who has been in a lot of stuff I’ve never seen), and Stacey is played by Joanna Page, who was Judy (the naked girl with Martin Freeman) in Love Actually.

Things with Gavin and Stacey progress quickly, and they are engaged in a few episodes’ time. Nessa and Smithy have an off-again on-again thing for the rest of the series. We meet Gavin’s family, his mom Pamela and his dad Mick. These two are awesome, especially Mick.  We also meet Stacey’s family, her mom Gwen (who cooks omelets in every episode) and her uncle Bryn (played by the adorable Rob Brydon, who I now love despite finding him annoying in The Trip), who spends the rest of the series making you wonder about his sexuality.

I think if I met a lot of these characters in real life, or if they were presented differently on the show, I wouldn’t like them very much.  Almost all of them smoke (which I hate) and they litter their cigarette butts (which I hate even more). Smithy parks in handicap spots and Nessa is incredibly selfish. Pamela is vapid and occasionally horribly racist.  Or xenophobic, I guess.  Bryn is…hopelessly out of touch.

But the way the show presents them, and the way they interact with each other is so lovely and makes you care and appreciate and enjoy each one of the characters and their relationships.  I really enjoyed this show and it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling a lot of the time. It was also very funny. There were tons of weird colloquial slang words that I have already started to use, and the Welsh accents are fun.

Favorite moments include Gavin’s bachelor party (with annoying appearances by Russell Tovey), Bryn explaining how to use the internet to Gavin, and Pam pretending to be a vegetarian for most of the show.

Unfortunately this show isn’t on Netflix instant, so I can’t re-watch like I did with The IT Crowd. I may have to buy the DVDs for this one.  I highly recommend this show, and plan on watching anything else James Corden or Ruth Jones (Smithy and Nessa) work on in the future.

The DVD shelves: The Trip

The Trip is a mockumentary about two actors, playing sort of warped versions of themselves.  Steve Coogan, I’m sure a lot of people have seen in films, even if they don’t recognize his name. He was in Tropic Thunder, the Percy Jackson film, both Night at the Museum movies, etc.  He’s most famous in England for playing Alan Partridge, though I must confess I haven’t the foggiest idea who or what that is.   The other actor in this film is Rob Brydon. I haven’t a clue who he is. I’ve gleaned from the film that he is most famous as an impressionist and voice worker.

The plot to the film is actually quite similar to Sideways, a film that I absolutely adore. Two men who knew each other when they were younger reconnect over a road-trip revolving (in theory) around food (though in Sideways they are mostly interested in wine, not food). Similar to Sideways, one of the two is intelligent, bitter, a bit depressed, very lonely, and occasionally quite acerbic and mean.  That would be Steve.  The other is more gregarious, good-hearted, and less intelligent.  That is Rob.

The two characters in this movie are truly dreadful people.  Steve is simultaneously egomaniacal and incredibly insecure. He is only confident if Rob has a smaller room than him at each hotel they visit on their food tour.  Rob, on the other hand, is one of those people who constantly need attention and need affirmation of how funny they are.  I hate those people. He spends the entire movie doing impressions.  It’s funny for about 10 minutes, then it’s just annoying, then it’s almost unbelievable.

So, if these are two horrible men, why spend two hours with them? Well, partially it is that they are so different and they are enduring time together.  They are challenged by being together, and it’s honestly quite uncomfortable sometimes. Each begins to see himself through the other’s eyes. Well, to a point. There is no massive revelation, and no sense of enduring friendship. Mostly, there is discomfort.  Which, from reading a few interviews about the film, was partially the point.

For my part, though, if I wanted to sit for a few hours with people who don’t understand each other, I’d go see my family. Maybe my enjoyment of the film was lessened by the fact that I didn’t recognize a lot of the cultural references.  The Michael Caine, Sean Connery, and Woody Allen impressions were funny.  The first time. But almost every other reference and impression was lost to me.  I like to think I’m more versed in British culture than most Americans, but this reminds me how completely unaware I am of most of their TV culture. And this movie was not made for international consumption, in my opinion. I guess, the bottom line is that I wouldn’t recommend it for people not very familiar with British culture.