Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse
2016 Comedy Drama
2 hours 8 minutes
From Broad Green Pictures
Obviously the assigned three stars and the following words are my opinion. I expect there will be some contrasting opinions on this one. I lean on the side that pays homage to superb acting, an interesting location and an engaging story. I am not sure if this truly qualifies as black comedy (a light look at themes that are generally considered serious or taboo) but I say it's at least dark gray. As such I think it all worked and worked well. It is unquestionably quirky and well, ok, that brings up the other side of the equation. Some will find the quirkiness too silly perhaps (it does lose a little steam in the last sliver, after a major event happens) and there are some fairly audacious if not some odd moments.
To add to the drumroll on this point, The Dressmaker is actually a 2014 Australian film that was released in 2015 in a number of foreign markets, but not the U.S. Its long delay just ended last Friday. That certainly alerts me to the skepticism about it appealing to a large American audience. The fact is, too, that this has that indie/art house feel to it and such films are usually not seen by the masses outside of L.A. and New York.
It was two solid hours of amusing entertainment as far as I'm concerned and it begins with Winslet's character, looking glamorous and usually bare-shouldered and bosomy, returning to her rural Australian home, a decidedly dreary place where she intends to spice things up a bit.
|Here she comes, boys....|
Armed with a sewing machine and all the haute couture she can carry, she moves in with her reluctant and rather unhealthy mother who, in her heyday, was the town tramp. At the center of this visit is a revenge plot. We quickly learn how shabbily the townsfolk have treated Winslet's character. As a young girl she was run out of town because of a murder they think she committed but one of which she has no recollection. You'll have to see how this one unfolds on your own time, I'm afraid.
It's kinda fun to see that virtually the entire female cast gets makeovers because everyone wants to make nice-nice and kiss-kiss with the dressmaker, despite still holding her in contempt. And she gladly makes glamorous clothes for them as she reels them in for some special things she has planned.
|The great Judy Davis|
To say she doesn't get along with her mother is an understatement in the beginning of the story and the dialogue and acting of Winslet and Judy Davis is great fun. What our dressmaker does not reckon on is falling for the town hunk. It's all pretty easy to watch Winslet and Liam Hemsworth play the romantic scenes because they are tender and so separate from the rest of the craziness.
While Winslet has certainly one of her more beautiful roles and Hemsworth, no longer the young actor from The Hunger Games but a grown man who is eye candy supremo, their 15-year age difference is fairly apparent. And while I have no problem with that, per se, even finding the cougar idea pretty hot, but they're supposed to be the same age.
I think many will agree, girls and boys, that one of the finer scenes is where Hemsworth is being measured for some wedding garb.
|About to get measured...|
One of my chief reasons for going to this film was to see Davis again. I haven't spotted her in years and she was once one of my treasured acting goddesses. So glad to see she hasn't lost her magic touch. Winslet also never disappoints me... never. This was a great role for her although I'm a bit surprised that with an all-Australian cast, or so it seems, how did she, a Brit, get the part?
Hugo Weaving also diverted the drama somewhat with his comical turns as the only policeman in the remote area who has a fetish for women's clothing. (Did he bring along any of his costumes from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert?) You can just imagine the joy he found at having Winslet come home for a little visit. The remainder of the cast had pretty decent-sized roles and if they all might be a little caricatured, I was still impressed.
Along with Davis, I used to enjoy the films of director Moorhouse. She last worked when she helmed the Jessica Lange-Michelle Pfeiffer family drama, A Thousand Acres (1997) but also made the wonderful Proof (1991) with Weaving and Russell Crowe, and the oh-so-splendid, estrogen-laden How to Make an American Quilt (1995). It's great having this sensitive director back making films again.
The Dressmaker is based on a novel by Rosalie Ham and the screenplay adapted by P. J. Hogan, a man, who knows his way around women's material quite well as those who saw Muriel's Wedding (1994) can attest.
It takes place in 1951 so there's a wonderful period feel in language, attitude and costumes. The entire town, a fairly sparse and ramshackle affair, was built by the studio.
I had to laugh when I read Moorhouse's description of the film as The Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood's 1992 Oscar-winner) with a sewing machine.
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