A few weeks ago, shortly after the movie came out, I tried to go see the movie Selma, but failed to do so because the tickets were sold out. Meanwhile, I forgot about it. Then, with the announcement of the Oscar nominees, suddenly it was all over the news. Although it was nominated for best picture, many people felt that it should have been nominated in more categories, specifically for actor, director and original screen play. On top of that, there was a secondary controversy brewing regarding the depiction of LBJ, for my foreign readers that would be Lyndon Baines Johnson, the president at the time.

If I were a professional reviewer, I’d probably want to see movies cold as the best way of evaluating them, write down some initial impressions and then, perhaps, do any background reading or research. However, I am not a professional reviewer and I went to the movies wanting Selma to be a great picture. After a week of being told online that I was racist or Islamophobic for thinking that shooting cartoonists and (let’s not forget) grocery store shoppers fell into the “bad thing” category rather than the “perfectly understandable,” I was kind of hoping to redeem myself by being able to whole heartedly scream about how the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was racist.

Well, let’s get the LBJ stuff out of the way since my opinion on that will keep me getting invited to cocktail parties. The criticisms are overwrought. Like a lot of historical movies, and even some fictional ones, the audience has to be informed of the background. The LBJ character winds up representing well-intentioned whites in the establishment. In order to inform the audience of the historical factors involved, he and Martin Luther King, Jr. have conversations in the movie that included very basic information that it is unlikely the two men would have to have said to each other in real life about a political movement that had been going on for years, one could say decades, at that point. It is for our benefit that these conversations are taking place. The movie was accurate enough that they did not forget to include Lee White, an adviser to both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. In his obituary a year ago, Todd S. Purdham wrote:

He was a quiet man with a thankless job, and he never became a household name or famous Washington face. But Lee C. White, who died at 90 this past October, played a crucial and effective behind-the-scenes role as White House civil rights adviser for both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, at the height of the movement to make America live up to its founding creed. (source:

I don’t think very many people will be turning to a movie when considering the insider political workings that had to happen in order to get the Voting Rights Act passed. In terms of leaving people with an accurate or inaccurate view of history, Selma does a far better job than another of this year’s nominees, The Imitation Game, which was just a travesty of historical inaccuracy. I don’t feel that people who are not already well-informed about the events surrounding the march from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital, Montgomery, to bring attention to the widespread disenfranchisement of black voters will be in any significant way deceived by this movie. It was far more impressive in its accuracy than many other recent historical films.

Which brings me to the writing award. In terms of the amount of research that must have gone into it, the huge cast of characters whose portrayal had to do justice to the real people on whom they were based, the script is damned impressive. In fact, the more I think about it, the more impressive that task seems. At the same time, the script felt workmanlike to me. The conversations needed to establish background could have been done a little more skillfully. There were too many scenes that were of people making speeches. It was certainly well written and, considering the demands for historical accuracy and the degree to which many of the important figures of the time are acknowledged, it was clearly no easy piece of writing.   How do you weigh that against an inventive and fictional piece of writing like Birdman? That is a judgement call. I certainly prefer the accurate, if occasionally stilted, writing of Selma to the socially damaging fictions of The Imitation Game. The writer has, at least, been respectful of the audience and done us a service, rather than serve us up a fist pumping concoction that derives its effects from lies. I will try to see a few of the other nominees before the Oscars, and Boyhood is high on my list of ones to view, but looking at the list it seems to me that the nominees for original screenplay favor the inventive. At some level, it strikes me as a matter of taste. I don’t think the screenplay for Selma was so brilliant that we need to put down the fact that it was bypassed for a nomination to racism alone. If it had been an adapted screenplay where there are fewer inventive movies and three of the nominees are based on true stories, the comparison would be easier. (If The Imitation Game wins for best adapted screenplay I’m going to gnash my teeth and start a twitter hashtag, #OscarSoBullshit.)

For instance, the movie portrays two members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee who have been working in Selma on voter registration. One member, James Forman turns to the other and tells him that SNCC wouldn’t support the march and if the other went he’d have to go, not as a representative of SNCC but as “John Lewis.” At that moment, the audience knows that they will see John Lewis, who suffered a fractured skull during that march, badly beaten by the police. Lewis has gone on to become a prominent congressman. James Forman would also continue to work in Civil Rights, but would advocate more radical tactics.

In 1961, Forman joined and became the executive secretary of the then newly formed Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. From 1961 to 1965 Forman, a decade older and more experienced than most of the other members of SNCC, became responsible for providing organizational support to the young, loosely affiliated activists by paying bills, radically expanding the institutional staff and planning the logistics for programs. Under the leadership of Forman and others, SNCC became an important political player at the height of the civil rights movement.

In 1964, Forman, expressing his frustration with the gradualist approach of some Civil Rights leaders, made one of his best known quips: “If we can’t sit at the table [of democracy], let’s knock the fucking legs off!”

The scenes in which the two SNCC members, John Lewis and James Forman, have discussions with Dr. King and other members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference carry the burden of having to show the dynamics that existed within the Civil Rights movement and disagreements about tactics. These scenes at times feel more like docudrama than drama.

Which brings me to the thing that I think saves the movie. Almost all the actors turn in strong, solid performances. Even the smaller roles are well acted, as in the horrifying scene in which Jimmie Lee Jackson and his mother and grandfather take shelter in a cafe. They had been at a protest march where the state troopers started beating the marchers. The state troopers burst into the cafe. The police begin to beat the grandfather, Cager Lee. When Viola Lee Jackson tries to defend her elderly father, they being to beat her. Her son then tries to protect her. He is thrown up against a wall and is shot.

Jackson’s death led James Bevel, SCLC Director of Direct Action and the director of SCLC’s Selma Voting Rights Movement, to initiate and organize the first Selma to Montgomery march to publicize the effort to gain registration and voting.

If Jimmy Lee Jackson appears to be a small role in the movie, the real life Jackson did not play such a minor role in historical events. He had been trying for four years to register to vote, and when the SCLC began organizing people in Selma he began attending regular meetings held in Zionist Baptist Church. (In the movie, Jimmie Lee Jackson appears to die in the cafe. I real life, he fled the cafe after being shot, was beaten more by the police, collapsed and died several days later in the hospital. This is the sort of simplification of events I take as almost a matter of course in a movie.)

When a movie features collectively solid acting rather than one or two outstanding performances, I’m inclined to credit the director, which brings us to another nomination that was not received.  Unlike, the screenplay category, I am less ambivalent about the fact that the director, Ava DuVernay, did not get nominated. Despite a story with inherent drama, the movie feels sluggish. The scenes between Coretta Scott King and her husband are especially boring. Showing marital tension because of Dr. King’s infidelities is supposed to humanize him and show his flaws. Instead, it just weighs down the movie. At one point, she asks him if he loved any of the other women. In the yawning length of time it takes him to answer she could have had a divorce lawyer on the phone. In the end, I just don’t find it as shocking a some people do that she didn’t get a nomination.

As far as the acting nominations go, I’ve only seen two of the nominated performances. I happened to love Birdman and would not be in the least bit disappointed if Michael Keaton wins. Regarding the nominations, however, I do think David Oyelowo turned in a better performance than Benedict Cumberbatch’s godawful emotionally vacant genius schtick.

One nomination that it would have made sense for Selma to receive was for costume design. That strikes me as an inexplicable oversight, especially in light of the fact that Inherent Vice got a nomination. I can barely remember the characters even wearing clothes.

In the end, I felt that Selma was a good, but not great movie. It certainly could have gotten a couple of more nominations than it did, but the fact that those nominations went to other films is not shocking to me, nor am I convinced that it is solely due to racism. I will be surprised if it wins best picture.

Inherent Vice inherently sucks. It is painfully boring, with the emphasis on painful. The lights came up and I thought to myself, “What? That was only two and a half hours? Christ, it seemed so much longer than that.” Since I already wasted far too much of my life watching this piece of crap and the last thing the internet needs is another self-regarding movie critic, I don’t know how much time I want to waste writing about this. However, as a public service announcement, I am telling you to steer clear.

First of all, let me get a couple of things out of the way. There are a lot of critics out there who have given good reviews and have implied or stated outright that people who don’t love this movie are insufficiently intellectual or sophisticated. Really? Go to hell, you pretentious twits!

I went to go see this movie because I like Thomas Pynchon, I’ve enjoyed other movies by Anderson, the tone of the trailer looked like it was going to be a lot of manic fun, the cast looked impressive, I’m a big fan of film noir and hard-boiled detective novels and I’m secretly in love with Benicio Del Toro.

  • Joachim Phoenix is the least sexy man in Hollywood.
  • None of the characters have enough of an inner life to give a shit about them.
  • The plot is difficult to follow, which wouldn’t itself be so bad, but since you don’t give a shit about the characters you don’t know why you’re bothering.
  • There’s an Asian prostitute named Jade. Okay, I get it. He’s playing on a cliche and I’m not enough of a killjoy to start yelling racism. But, damn, if you’re going to put that shit up on screen, you had better make it work.
  • The couple of attempts at subversive sexual humor were so lame that my seventy-something former English teacher mother yawned. If you think the “Pussy Eater Special” is naughty, you’re really lame.
  • Your respect for The Big Lebowski will be markedly increased.
  • You’ll feel really bad for the actors, except for the Asian prostitute who should have known better.
  • Did I mention that Joachim Phoenix is not sexy? No, I mean I can’t imagine any woman actually wanting to fuck him. I guess that’s why it’s called fiction.
  • Benicio Del Toro’s role is not big enough.
  • In fact, no one’s role is big enough except Joachim Phoenix’s, and he’s really boring.
  • There are large blocks of narration by a minor character which make you wish you were listening to the book on tape. Or maybe just reading the book.
  • I’m afraid to mention that Josh Brolin does a good job because you might think that means that this movie has redeeming qualities. It cannot be redeemed.
  • The highlight of the movie is the female character, if character is an appropriate word for an empty body with no inner life, pinches her nipple. Despite her fabulous body, the scene is oddly unsexy.
  • Most of the male actors seem strangely old for their roles.

Instead of seeing this movie, get yourself a bag of pot and a porn magazine and spend the evening masturbating. It will a hell of a lot more fun, and emotionally deeper as well.


I’ll go see Omar Sy in just about anything, so it’s a good thing he carries this movie. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s spotty, inconsistent, and it drags at times. It’s a social drama/romantic comedy, or rather a social comedy/romantic drama, and it might have been better if the filmmakers had chosen one or another because the parts did not combine well this time.

When I’m in France, I usually grab the opportunity to take in a movie that is unlikely to make it across the Atlantic. This one might on the strength of the directors’ previous international hit, also starring Sy. On the other hand, it doesn’t have any of the stereotypical images of France that usually guarantee a hit in the U.S. That isn’t inherently a negative for me. In my mind, Un Coeur en hiver is the exactly the sort of French film Americans eat up, and not one I personally liked. (When I’m in a playful mood and I encounter I snobby Francophile, I introduce the subject of French film – and then start waxing poetic about Luc Besson. This usually makes them turn all sorts of fascinating colors.)

The movie centers around the title character, Samba, played by Sy, an undocumented immigrant from Senegal who wants to regularize his situation and stay in France. He encounters Charlotte Gainsbourg. She says that she is a former high-powered executive who got burned out and is suffering from insomnia. She looked believably fatigued. Outside of seeming tired and depressed, there was nothing else believable about her character. I’m not really sure if I should blame the writer, the directors or Gainsbourg herself, whom I’ve liked in the past, but I suspect the blame could be divided among all of them. One necessary ingredient to make the story work was that the two leads had to have sufficient interest in one another to overcome gaps in both culture and social class. It might be understandable that a depressed, bored woman might be interested in Sy’s energetic character, but why anyone would be interested in Gainsbourg’s character is beyond me. She seems like even more of a drag than your average depressed person. (Charlotte, never go full burn out.) It’s hard to believe that she was ever an executive of any importance. Furthermore, although France might be different, you can’t just take a year off and expect to return to having the authority you did when you left, as Gainsbourg appears to do at the end of the movie. Her character barely seems capable of standing up, let alone leaning in. She wears the same black turtleneck and baggy brown overcoat seemingly everyday. When she finally returns to her work and she walks in her office and all these very Gallic looking men in business suits quickly put away their cell phones, it just looked so contrived.

It was such a let down from the opening which began with a wedding and had what appeared to be one long shot from the fancy reception, through the various levels of the kitchen until we encounter Samba working in the back as a dishwasher. While the movie’s portrayal of low-level jobs seemed to me to be, with the exception of the window washer scene, realistic, their notion of how white-collar jobs function seemed to me to be off.

It’s too bad the window washer scene didn’t seem to fit in because it was cute. Some of the funniest moments were with Tahir Rahim, who plays a Moroccan immigrant pretending to be Brazilian, so he can appear sexier. While working as a window washer in La Defense, he does a strip tease in front of a crowd of admiring office workers. I couldn’t help thinking that it was too bad that he and Sy didn’t star in a mad cap comedy about two undocumented immigrants trying to make their way in France. As it was, many of his scenes, while thoroughly entertaining, felt like they came from a different movie.

Similarly, Youngar Fall does a wonderful job as Samba’s uncle, yet those scenes feel lifted from a serious drama.

Sometimes, a movie can draw from different genres and it works. This time it didn’t. It’s not a bad movie, just an okay one. However, for Americans, it might be interesting to see because you get to see a side of French society we don’t usually bother to look at.

I’ve been tossing around what to say about this movie since I saw it last night. It’s been more difficult than I thought because I enjoyed it and would like to convey that basic fact but many of the things I want to say sound like criticisms. It’s very predictable. That’s not necessarily bad. It’s sweet. That’s not bad, either. The humor is very gentle. Also, not a bad thing.

It’s a true story, but ever since Dallas Buyer’s Club and Philomena I’ve started finding myself feeling suspicious of true stories, especially ones that get their emotional impact from interactions among characters that may or may not have happened.

The movie lurches from one feel good moment to another. That sounds rather ridiculous, but it mostly works, especially if you’re a certain age and really enjoy eighties dance music. Since I’m used to the idea of a script centering on conflict this did have me feeling like the movie was about to end at five or six different moments. The movie’s plot is about a group of gay activists who raise money to help striking mine workers in Wales during the Thatcher era. The main conflict centers around whether or not the miners will be willing to accept help from gays, who were still seen as being a little disreputable at that time. About fifteen minutes into the movie, a representative of the miners comes to London to thank the group for its help. The miner, Dai, takes the stage in a gay bar and there is some grumbling. Will gays accept the miners? Dai makes a short, humble speech and ends it with a gentle joke. Cue the eighties dance music! I might have thought it was the end, but I had barely settled into my chair. The rest of the movie felt like one feel-good climax after another. More dance music!

At some point I realized that I was more or less the same age as many of the younger gay activists in the movie. Despite being on the other side of the Atlantic, I remember the Thatcher era quite well. This movie will not change your life, or even change your opinion about anything. On the other hand, it’s a light upbeat comedy, so maybe I’m asking too much of it. It’s perfectly manipulative. When they started singing “Bread and Roses” the cynical side of me wanted to say, “Oh, come the fuck on,” yet the emotional side of me found myself getting caught up in it anyway. The acting was solid throughout. Perhaps rather than calling it “manipulative” I should say it’s “polished.” For a bisexual whose grandfather was a Wobbly and whose great-grandfather was a miner and who rather misses eighties dance clubs, this movie definitely massaged all the right spots.

Pride aroused a great amount of nostalgia in me, for a time when people who were interested in social justice were liable to be interested in economic justice as well and for a time when gay culture was less interested in bourgeois respectability than it is today. Now, if you pardon me, I need to go dye my hair funny colors and find a dance club that caters to old people.


My only reason for posting today is to make sure I don’t wreck my reputation as an aging hipster / femme fatale / nerd / space cadet by letting anyone think that I didn’t post yesterday because I was watching the Superbowl. No, my mother my sister and I went to see The Dallas Buyers Club. My brother-in-law is a big boy and sis informed me that he is quite capable of fetching his own beer. The Dallas Buyers Club is a very wholesome picture about acceptance of difference and coming to understand people who are different from you. If ambiguity and complexity turns you on, this movie may leave you flat.

Ron Woodruff is diagnosed with HIV and given thirty days to live. Due to the stigma associated with AIDS in the eighties, Ron’s friends reject and shun him. “Ron… bereft of government-approved effective medicines, decided to take matters in his own hands, tracking down alternative treatments from all over the world by means both legal and illegal. By passing the establishment, the entrepreneurial Woodroof joined forces with an unlikely band of renegades and outcasts – who he once would have shunned – and established a hugely successful ‘buyers’ club.'”

One of those “renegades and outcasts” is man named Rayon who dresses as a woman. The character is called “he” throughout the film and therefore I’m not sure if I should refer to him as trans. In any case, he has many characteristics traditionally seen as feminine. Perhaps I’ve been thinking of gender issues a little too much in the past few days, but I was watching a segment of “Anatomy of a Scene” on the New York Times website, where the director explains some of the decisions he made during the scene. In it, I couldn’t help noticing that the director, Jean-Marc Vallé, refers to Ron and Rayon as the “leads.” It occurred to me that, although Ron and Rayon have no sexual contact, that many of their interactions are similar to the dynamic that might be found between the male and female lead in a romantic comedy.

A few months ago, I watched How to Survive a Plague with my mother. It might be a very good movie to watch in conjunction with this one. Although we get glimpses of the larger societal impact of the AIDS epidemic, they remain only glimpses. The Dallas Buyers Club is at heart a human drama of redemption. Without ever quite losing his skanky quality, Ron becomes a better person, still pretty flawed, but undeniably better. How to Survive a Plague is a documentary that gives more information about the backdrop against which The Dallas Buyers Club takes place.

Another movie that I think is worth seeing is a 2005 movie also by Jean-Marc Vallé, C.R.A.Z.Y. It’s a Canadian movie in French. Apparently, that movie was nearly made in the U.S., but the actor who would play the father, Michel Côté, said to Vallé,

‘I’m going to kill you if you go to the States to make this film in English. Man, this is a story for us. It’s our story. And we’ve got to fucking make it in French.’ He said, ‘I’m going to help you. We’re going to make this in French. In Quebec.’

It’s a coming of age story.

I have absolutely no standing whatsoever to review a movie and my main reason for doing so is to encourage people to not miss this one. This is the season of film awards and suddenly, after eleven months of desert, the theaters are deluged with an excess of quality movies demanding your attention. The Great Beauty is the Italian entry to the Oscars’ category of Best Foreign Language Film and it just won the comparable category at the Golden Globes.

After seeing Black 47 on New Years Eve and drinking a rather lot I expected that I would be spending a large part of New Years Day lolling in bed. Much to my surprise I woke up earlier than I expected. I tried to do some sketching, but it was just a tad too cold to be still out of doors. Eventually, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was in New York to see a movie that might not make it to Baltimore and I walked down to the Angelica on Houston Street figuring that I would just get a ticket for whatever was playing next. I bought a ticket for the next showing of The Great Beauty, not knowing anything about it other than the fact that it was in Italian and the bare bones description pasted in the window of the box office. I was entirely unprepared for the sensual, hypnotic beauty that would unfold before my eyes over the course of the next two hours.

From the Janus Films website:

Journalist Jep Gambardella (the dazzling Toni Servillo, Il divo and Gomorrah) has charmed and seduced his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome for decades. Since the legendary success of his one and only novel, he has been a permanent fixture in the city’s literary and social circles, but when his sixty-fifth birthday coincides with a shock from the past, Jep finds himself unexpectedly taking stock of his life, turning his cutting wit on himself and his contemporaries, and looking past the extravagant nightclubs, parties, and cafés to find Rome in all its glory: a timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty.

I’m almost hesitant to link to the website of the film because the trailer does not begin to do the film justice, nor does the synopsis. The website makes it look like a pretentious travelogue tacked onto a cliché. The idea of someone living the high life “taking stock of his life” might lead you to fear that he may come to see that his life is empty and hollow and reject it in favor of something more profound. Do not worry. This movie goes nowhere anything so predictable and tedious as that.

Jep is a sybarite, a sensualist, an aesthete – words to which I can relate – and he remains all those things at the end. It is revealed to us, the audience, through his eyes, how the beauty of the world is intimately linked to decay and death. This is conveyed through a heightened reality, at moments bordering on magic realism, that I’m tempted to liken to Mannerism, though perhaps it is the location of the film that puts that in my mind. At moments, I was unsure of what was going on, but it was visually stunning. It was one of those movies where the entire audience sat until the end of the credits and, even after they were over, only began to get out of their seats slowly and quietly, as if they were waking from a dream. I couldn’t help but notice that not a few people wore a faint, beatific smile.

It opened more widely yesterday.

I’ve got to say, I never really thought that I’d be writing a post that combined those two subjects to quite the extent that they are going to be combined in this post. For the record, I’m adopted and I’m an atheist.

A few days ago, I was watching the Daily Show with my mother on her brand new tv. She’s a big Jon Stewart fan. Steve Coogan was on talking about his latest movie, Philomena. My mother said she had seen it already but she would see it again with me.

After seeing the movie last night, I asked my mother if she felt her reaction to the movie was any different being someone who adopted two children. She said that it reminded her of my birth mother. Specifically, it reminded her of the moment when she was in the offices of the adoption agency and she read the paper they had given her describing my birth mother. I have an older sister and she said that reading about her mother didn’t make her sad. My sister’s mother was in her twenties. She came from a stable family, had a career and had had an affair with her boss. My mother said, “It’s sad, but not that sad.”

“But your mother, she was just a child herself. Her parents were divorced. She was shuttled from home to home. I wanted to adopt her too. She asked the agency if there wasn’t any way that she could keep you. It just made me incredibly, incredibly sad.”

Then she turned the question on me. One moment in the movie stood out. The main character, Martin, goes to the graveyard near the home for unwed mothers run by the Roman Catholic Church and he discovers the graves of women and children who died in childbirth. The camera pans across the neglected field of black crosses over grown with weeds. Then it rests on one and the text comes into focus. “Aged 14.” The audience gasped. I thought of my biological mother who was fourteen when I was born. Thank goodness she received proper medical care when she was pregnant.

Philomena, if you haven’t yet seen it, is about a former journalist who has recently lost his job in the Labour government and is now sort of depressed or something. At loose ends and casting about for a project, he decides, rather cynically, to try a human interest story. He apparently has no interest whatsoever in the (ridiculously obvious) larger themes of the stigma of single motherhood, the power of the Roman Catholic Church, forced labor, inadequate health care, gender and class based injustices, the relative poverty of Ireland vis-a-vis the rest of the Western World, etc., etc. I mean, the Roman Catholic Church, one of the most powerful institutions in the world, was forcing poor Irish women into slavery, or near slavery, through contracts with the Irish government and enforced by the police who would return any escapees, allowing a disproportionate number of them, and their children, to die in childbirth, and selling their children to wealthy Americans. Really? This guy is a journalist?

Okay, so now to make a few bucks this depressed journalist decides to help a woman who was coerced to relinquish her child for adoption fifty years earlier track him down. Spoiler alert: He’s dead. However, in the end, Mr. Snottypants learns a thing a two about the indomitablity (is that a word?) of the human spirit through the simple heart of this salt-of-the-earth Irish woman. And it’s not nearly as bad as I just made it sound.

The skilled acting and excellent direction plaster over the holes in a pretty shoddy script. There’s a point when Martin and Philomena are in a field… (Why? It’s Ireland. Ireland’s green. So people drive to fields to have conversations, apparently.) They’re in a field talking about sexual pleasure. The landscape is beautiful. The sun is setting. Steven Coogan’s hair is ringed by sunlight, like an angel. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, I would so totally fuck you… it’s too bad you’re an actor… on a screen… with a wife way hotter than I am… I think Steven Coogan’s fan base of dumpy middle-aged American women just increased exponentially.

It moves along at a nice pace. My mother didn’t fall asleep once. Just when the subject starts getting a bit serious, there’s some humor to lighten it up and make it more bearable. Coogan (may I call you Steve?) is a comedian, among other things, and he co-wrote the script.

It was hard for me to enjoy the movie, to suspend disbelief, because I spent too much of the time thinking about the unspoken assumptions about society, about adoption, about atheism and about class that are whirling about this story. One critic called it a “middle-brow feel-good movie.” Apparently, the bar on feeling good must have been dramatically lowered because my mother cried throughout. So did the woman sitting on my left. Meanwhile, I’m sitting there thinking, “I don’t buy the waitress latching onto a party goer to tell him her mother’s sob story, I don’t buy him storming into the private quarters to confront nuns, and I sure as hell don’t buy that stupid bit about the Celtic harp.”

Now I feel bad. I like Steve Coogan, I mean as much as I can considering that I don’t know him. He has that sort of hang-dog look that makes you want to start petting him. Considering that this movie has been criticized by a small portion of Catholics who have seen it as “anti-Catholic,” I feel like he certainly doesn’t need me jumping on him accusing him of class bias, but it’s hard to avoid that Philomena and Martin are broadly drawn stereotypes. I mean, really, would an actual Englishman (If you’re an Englishman please feel free to comment.) sit in an Irish abbey and declare that a piece of fruit cake is like “pandolce?” Doesn’t the English writer speak English?

At one of the most grotesque moments of the movie, Martin says on the phone something to the effect of “I have now seen what a steady diet of romance novels and the Daily Mail can do to the human mind.” That pretty much sums up the movie.  Martin is smart, educated, upper middle class, professional, and an atheist. Philomena is slow, uneducated, working class and religious. Needless to say, most of the jokes come at her expense. As comic characters they work. As dramatic characters, they fall short.

I said to my mother that I felt that it wouldn’t be very hard to find individuals who are more complex. I recall once reading a book titled The Other Mother  by Carol Schaefer, about a woman who was sent to a home for unwed mothers run by the Catholic Church and, years later, searched for the son she was forced to abandon. She is in college and in a steady relationship when she gets pregnant. One of the motivations for her to place her child with another family is to be able to finish her education. She falls away from the Catholic Church, although she does not become an atheist. Birth mothers have suffered from a great deal of stereotyping. I can recall growing up having other kids taunting me telling me that my biological mother must have been stupid or a slut, sometimes that implication that I, too, must be stupid was not left unspoken. Like Carol Schaefer, the experience of having a child out-of-wedlock turned my biological mother against orthodox forms of religion. She asked the adoption agency to not place me with a religious family.

This also feeds into stereotypes about atheists, that they’re a bunch of privileged white guys. When discussing the question of religion with my mother, I said, “I imagine some of those women must have distanced themselves from the Catholic Church.” My mother suggest that perhaps it was a function of education. I pointed out that my Philomena, as a nurse, would have had a higher level of education than my biological mother.

I almost feel bad making all these criticisms about a light, funny, tear-jerker of a movie. Almost.

I was adopted through a secular agency. At twenty-four I went to the agency to try to find my biological mother. Within a month they had put me in contact with her.

I’m calling this a recommendation rather than a review, because that’s exactly what it is. Not being a film buff, I was unaware of the existence of this film until I saw it mentioned on someone’s blog on Thursday. I’d give a hat tip, but I can’t find where I saw it.

The film is called Twenty Feet from Stardom, and it’s a documentary about unsung singers. The women in this movie are among the best in the business. You may not know their names, but you probably know their voices. This movie is a fabulous corrective to a history which has often overlooked these talented musicians.

When I saw the film mentioned in the blog post and I looked at the date and realized that the post was already a month old, I hurried out to see it. Luckily, it was playing at my neighborhood theater. There’s not much else to say. Watch the trailer. If you like the trailer, you’ll probably like the movie. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.