Movie reviews: A wise “Philomena,” a touching “her”

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in "Philomena."

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in “Philomena.”

By Sarah Cooperman E Pluribus Unum

Love not only makes the world go ‘round, it also motivates that part of the film world not focused on blowing things up.  Two films in recent release – “Philomena”  and “her” touch impressively on aspects of that emotion: a mother’s love, and the loneliness for love in today’s society.

Judi Dench stars in “Philomena” as a mother (Philomena Lee) trying to find the child she gave up for adoption decades before.   Steve Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith, a journalist who wrote articles and then a book about her efforts.

Dench, as always, is impressive. She is as comfortable playing an elderly Irish woman as she is royalty.  She is strong without being overbearing, faithful but practical. This is perfectly counterpointed by the cynical Sixsmith (Coogan), who seethes with iconoclasm but who eventually has his hard heart softened.

The story begins in Great Britain and takes us to America, allowing the script (Coogan and Jeff Pope) to take a few good-natured swipes at our culture. The outcome of their search is bittersweet, but satisfying. Due credit is given to acceptance and the power of inquiry.

Sarah’s score: A-.

“her” is a very odd little movie, but Spike Jonze’s latest may be more prophetic than people are comfortable with.

Joaquin Phoenix (what a great actor he’s turned out to be!) stars as Theodore Twombly, a professional letter-writer who is depressed and lonely in the aftermath of the breakup of his marriage.

Poster for 'her"

Poster for ‘her”

After some disastrous (and funny) experiments with online sex, he buys an operating system for his computer; an “OS” which talks and has artificial intelligence designed to designed to adapt and evolve like a real person.

The OS, self-named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) turns out not only to be a great help and organizer, but a sympathetic and appealing presence. As you might guess, Theodore falls in love with Samantha, which is strangely accepted by society.

The director takes care to show us lots of scenes in which an increasingly nerdy population (high-waisted pants, no belts, uncombed hair) embraces the idea of interpersonal relationships with electrons.

Amy Adams co-stars as a friend of Theodore who struggles in her marriage and later finds an OS to bond with.

If the whole thing seems far-fetched, think about how many relationships form through Facebook, chat rooms, e-mail, etc.  This sweet, unique love story focuses on the lengths people will go to find an emotional connection. It’s sci-fi, but not in a weird way; it’s probably just ahead of the curve.

Sarah’s score: A.

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