“Anyone who is honest understands that it lambastes the way Irish Catholicism played out in 1950s Ireland, using falsehoods whenever necessary to underscore the point,” said Kyle Smith, a movie critic for the New York Post.
“Some like ‘Philomena’ for that reason. Some think there should be a little more art than diatribe to a film,” he continued.
The Weinstein Company movie dramatizes the story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who gave up her son for adoption at a convent in 1950s Ireland after she gave birth out of wedlock at age 18. The movie is told from the perspective of Lee 50 years later as she travels with journalist Martin Sixsmith to learn what happened to her son.
Smith, a self-described atheist, initially characterized the movie in a Nov. 21 review as “a witless bore,” “90 minutes of organized hate,” and “a diabolical-Catholics film, straight-up.”
In response, the Weinstein Company ran a full-page ad in the Dec. 5 New York Times citing the review and publishing excerpts of a letter from Lee to Smith. The elderly Lee said she has “a very strong hold on my faith” and that the movie was meant to be “a testament to good things, not an attack.”
Smith responded on Dec. 7 that Lee ignored how that the movie depicted her in a negative way, as a “dimwit and butt of most of its jokes” in comparison to the “sophisticate” atheist journalist.
The film critic said the movie was “lazy” and “contrived” with “smack-you-in-the-nose” dialogue like the journalist character’s “crowd-pleasing, film-defining cry ‘f---ing Catholics’.”
While the movie portrays the Church as cruel and coercive, Smith noted that it was in some ways a refuge for single mothers who could not support children on their own in the face of social ostracism.
“We all know how cruel it was for the mid-century Catholic Church to provide shelter for scorned women written off as dead by their families, help them give birth to their children and place the adoptees in loving homes,” Smith said with sarcasm. “Today we’d be much more compassionate: we’d simply abort all those kids. Problem solved.”
He added that the film is encouraging anti-Catholic sentiment among some reviewers, such as James Killough of PureFilmCreative.com, whose review cited the obscene reference to Catholics in its title.
Killough’s review said that the Church has abused “just about everyone in the history of its existence,” and those who disagree with actor and Steve Coogan’s depiction of it are likely members of the Catholic clergy or “as terrorized by this most dangerous and egregious of Christian sects as Philomena herself.”
Smith, however, said that he “could see no reason for the movie’s existence other than to soar overhead in the guise of the sweet bird of comedy, then drop a surprise load of guano on Catholic institutions.”
“Like Coogan, I was raised Catholic and became an atheist, but I have too much respect for people of faith to be obnoxious about it,” he stated.
The “Philomena” distributor is owned by Harvey Weinstein, whom Time Magazine ranked as the most powerful man in Hollywood in 2012. Smith said that Weinstein has a “resume of anti-Catholic movies” including “The Magdalene Sisters,” “The Butcher Boy,” and “Priest.”
Smith said the latest film is playing to “mostly empty theaters,” despite receiving several positive reviews. He questioned the judgment on many movie critics.
“Film critics tend to give a free pass to obvious, trite, heavy-handed movies that light up the correct political-pleasure circuits in their brains,” he said. “I’m used to disagreeing with them.”
An atheist movie reviewer has criticized the new film “Philomena” as “another hateful and boring attack on Catholics,” saying that it unfairly shows the Church as exploitative and coercive.