Starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook,
Jocelyn Moorhouse returns to film after almost twenty years away from the director’s chair. The Dressmaker is an odd film in structure, subject matter and presentation. Moorhouse describes the film as “Unforgiven with a sewing machine”. What looks like a film about a young woman returning to her miserable dusty Australian town to find love is anything but. The Dressmaker is at its best when lending itself to the darker comedy elements of the script. It’s a bit Hot Fuzz with the delightfully eccentric characters who all have peculiar ailments. Winslet fits this role like the gloves she wears, equally sexy and spiteful. It’s her film for sure, but supporting actors Davis (Husbands and Wives) and Weaving (The Lord of the Rings) nearly steal the show in some of the most gut busting performances I have seen all year.
Accused of murder and sent away as a child, Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Winslet) returns to the forgotten town of Dungatar, Australia in 1951 as a vindictive dressmaker ready to flip the townspeople topsy-turvy. Her frail and decrepit mother called Mad Molly (Davis) by the town, barely recognizes her grown daughter. In her first public appearance, Tilly debuts one of her most revealing dresses at the local rugby game, stealing the glance of farm hand Teddy McSwiney (Hemsworth). Before long, the town momentarily pause their hate in order to gain favor and fashion from Tilly. She begins remaking each housewife to look like the latest model off the Paris runway. The past catches up to the Dunnage family however and Tilly is forced to remember what really happened that dreadful day in the school yard.
A hilarious and delicious piece of entertainment that could only come from the land down under.
Screenwriter P.J. Hogan (Muriel’s Wedding) works some real magic with the script that delivers some of the funniest material on screen this year. It’s not that raunchy American comedy crap, it’s smart, sassy, and diabolical Aussie humor. The Dressmaker is framed very much as a western, golf balls are substituted for bullets, egotism and condensation are the villains and our outlaw wears heels instead of a holster. Normally I would criticize a film for switching gears so often between hysterics in one scene then romance and tragedy another. Yet The Dressmaker seems to embrace the fact it’s got so many different elements rolled into one story. An emotional roller coaster for the viewer.
Many a moment left me surprised and the audience a gasp, while the most unwelcome surprise came in the form of an ill fitted fourth act. My patience ran thin when the film ran into its final quarter. Much of the films introduction is where we get the comedy and while the dramatic moments are not terrible, the flashbacks and romance slow the movies’ giddy-up pace and stride. Not to mention the costumes would be criminal as they enrapture so much of the plot. While some scenes go beyond the ridiculous and the running time certainly interferes with diligence, The Dressmaker is still a hilariously and delicious piece of entertainment that could only come from the land down under.
One of the year’s most surprising and satisfying pieces of entertainment.