Jocelyn Moorhouse’s THE DRESSMAKER
A movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
THE DRESSMAKER is an odd film where the whole is less than the sum of the parts -- but some of the parts are really good.
The premise is intriguing, some of the cast members are excellent, and the setting is unusual. Overall execution is uneven, however. I attribute this to the director and writer trying to shoehorn just too many story elements and characters into the plot.
The story: a woman (Kate Winslet) returns to a small dusty Australian town after having been away (or banished) for 20 years. She moves in with her crazy old mom (Judy Davis). She strikes up relationships with a young rugby playing hunk (Liam Hemsworth) and the local cross-dressing constable (Hugo Weaving). She sets up an unlikely business designing and sewing high-fashion dresses for the local ladies. Her dressmaking success creates unexpected social ramifications for the local community.
Meanwhile, the Deep Dark Secret of why she left the town as a child begins to surface. This opens old festering wounds that have been ignored for years. She falls in love with the young hunk. She works out her relationship with her crazy old mom. Meanwhile we're treated to glimpses of the town’s odd menagerie of citizens, many of whom seem to know something about the Deep Dark Secret.
At times it seems the movie can't decide whether it's a comedy or tragedy. The problem is that what might have been dark comedy in other hands often comes off here as just plain weird. Some moments intended as funny come off as silly, a case in point being Hugo Weaving's fabric draped prancing.
Still, I found a lot to like here. The physical settings are unique, especially for a U.S. citizen like myself. I'm not under any illusion that this movie is at all representative of what rural Australia is really like but it all does seem pleasantly and oddly weird.
I enjoyed the performances of Winslet, Hemsworth, and especially Davis. Winslet I am happy to watch in anything. In several outfits as displayed here she simply looks stunning. Unfortunately, she does not appear comfortable with "silly" comedy. She’s much better in more traditional roles like Alan Rickman’s A Little Chaos.
Hemsworth plays his part straight without sliding into a "simple but lovable local oaf" persona.
Davis is most impressive of all. Her performance here raises the question of why we don't see her in movies more. She really brings her character to life. Several times I found myself laughing out loud at her sly nuttiness. “She must be playing off someone she knows,” I found myself thinking.
On balance I enjoyed THE DRESSMAKER despite its flaws. While the filmmakers have tried to incorporate just too many odd, potentially funny, and tragic incidents and characters into a single film, there is more than enough to keep the patient movie aficionado engaged.
Review copyright (c) 2017 by Dennis D. McDonald. To find more reviews like this scroll down. To find out more about my consulting services go here.