Philomena ★★★½

Maybe a little hacky in construction -- cynical, Oxford-educated bigshot is taught a Valuable Life Lesson by a simple old woman -- but the movie doesn't really deliver the expected beats (there's no big confrontation about Martin's supposed exploitation of Philomena, for example, or any reckoning with the hard-nosed editor), and the ones it does deliver are so gentle and human that I just went with it. A testament to Frears' facility with potentially irritating material: what could have been insufferably patronizing becomes moving and real. The gauzy home video flashbacks are a genius move, gradually revealing the life that Philomena missed, and underscoring the immensity of her eventual forgiveness.