Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Dressmaker: Film Review

The Dressmaker: Film Review

Cast: Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Judy Davis, Sarah Snook, Rebecca Gibney
Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse

Set in an Aussie small town where everyone is an oddball, The Dressmaker's quirkiness begins to grate pretty quickly.

The deranged and nutty tone sets the scene for a story that's as steeped in tragedy as it is over-the-top garishness. 

A perfectly cast Winslet plays Myrtle, a woman scorned from the small fictional Aussie backwater Dungatar with the belief she caused the death of a boy. Returning to her mother, Mad Molly (a wonderful Judy Davis who imbues her bitter mother with as much heart as she does black humour) after a spell working in high fashion, Tilly sets feathers flying with her seamstress skills and her vampish figure, reminiscent of a Hollywood siren.

But she also captures the heart of Liam Hemsworth’s rugger boy and neighbour Teddy (who gets shirtless on numerous occasions) and begins to melt back to the charms of Dungatar while trying to exact her revenge for years of ostracism.

The Dressmaker is a curio, which is verging on high campery too as Winslet's Myrtle arrives back in town with revenge on her mind and snarling out a "I'm back ,you bastards" from under an icy veneer as the film starts, channelling a wild western showdown soundtrack and signalling something is in the water.

But under the high 1950s fashion is a simple story of reputations unfairly gained and rumours viciously spread among the ghouls of a small town, a trope that many who have tried to flee their past only to run home will recognise. The film heads more for farce and a parody of grotesques in its execution, rather than giving the supporting players a touch more humanity.

For this is a small town where the police are more interested in high fashion than high crime, where one man drugs his wife to rape her in her sleep and where a secret truth has festered for years rotting the community from within – it’s not exactly the most pleasant place to dwell, and Moorhouse works reasonably well from the Aussie ocker source material the Gothic book written by Rosalie Ham.

Of the leads, Davis seriously impresses, giving Molly the emotional arc she needs as the prodigal daughter returns home; elsewhere Winslet’s thawing of the stark and severe Myrtle seems as inevitable as the wonderful dresses she wears but her turn gives the predictable story a kind of watchability that’s welcome among all the frocks and barbs. It’s the mother and daughter relationship that is the real thrust of this film and proves to be the reason to plough on through the nuttiness and extreme stereotypes.

Weaving’s cop also deserves mention; a policeman who is more interested in the fripperies that Myrtle brings from Paris and whose cross-dressing is indulged but never revelled in. Granted, it’s like watching another variation of Weaving’s turn from Priscilla, Queen of the desert but he’s a small oasis in a backwater of confused tone, overlong pacing and dusty yesteryear drama.

Ultimately, The Dressmaker is a celebration of the absurd, a gallery of grotesque and unfortunately, a grating film that will surprise many who are expecting something else than what the poster appears to promise.


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