The Dressmaker – Film Review

Fashionable-Fridays-Kate-Winslet-Dressmaker-Australian-Couture-e1438772691764This movie’s been out for seven weeks or so, and I half-expected to be shoved in a tiny theatre, but instead it screened in one of the largest ones, which was a bit strange. I guess it’s the film’s last hurrah before Force Awakens takes over 95% of the world’s cinemas in two days’ time.

The Dressmaker is a rather weird hodge-podge of dark comedy and melodrama. It tells the story of Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet), who returns to her dump of a town in rural Australia, some time in 1950s, after working as a dressmaker in top Parisian houses. Tilly’s got a few reasons for her return: to look after her eccentric, ailing mother (Judy Davis) who’s a handful to put it mildly, and to uncover the truth about the incident from her childhood which led to her exile from the town. Oh and to have sweet sweet revenge on those townsfolk who have wronged her, with fashion, Singer sewing machine and red lipstick as her weapons.

I haven’t seen Kate Winslet on the big screen in seven years or so, and she’s great fun as the sartorial femme fatale while also uncovering her character’s fragile side. And wow she can rock a red dress. Judy Davis is in cracking form as Tilly’s mother, and their tense mother/daughter interactions make for some of the best scenes in the movie. Liam Hemsworth, who plays one of the local boys and Tilly’s love interest, doesn’t have much to do other than be charming and attractive, but I don’t think any women in the audience minded, including myself, though I’m rather more keen on his older brother. I’ve spotted many familiar faces from the Australian cinema and TV, but most of their appearances aren’t particularly memorable, with the exception of Hugo Weaving’s sympathetic policeman who harbours a secret love of all things fashion. It’s a great comic performance, though one of his earlier scenes cracked me up for a different reason when his diction suddenly got very Agent Smith for a second.

The movie was kinda messy and not always put well together; some of the transitions between the scenes are too abrupt and awkward, and tonally it’s all over the shop, swinging from satire to dark drama to cartoonish humour, sometimes within the same scene. Most of the supporting characters rarely rise above the caricatures. Also, I felt like Tilly’s story was a tad confused, as at times it wasn’t clear on her motivations and whether she wanted revenge or acceptance from her home town.

Still, I enjoyed its energy, humour, the particularly Australian brand of quirk, and of course the clothes. The movie well and truly celebrates the transformative power of fashion (and curvy figures). There’s one rather clichéd subplot about an apparently plain girl transformed into a glamorous bombshell who leaves the guy she fancies utterly gobsmacked, but I also appreciated that, for many other women in the movie, looking beautiful was all about how it makes them feel, not about how it makes the observers feel. Some of the darker moments touch on domestic abuse, there’s one particular moment early on which is shown with such matter-of-factness it makes it even more shocking.

Speaking of women’s issues, Suffragette trailer was pretty painful. Worthy topic, love the actors involved, but god it made the movie sound like one of those heavy-handed, Oscar-baiting “important issue” movies.

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