Movie review of “The Dressmaker”: This revenge tale, which includes highly enjoyable moments and the welcome presence of Kate Winslet, has too many story threads. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
“The Dressmaker” was clearly intended to be a ravishing creation, but it’s patched together from such a ragbag of scraps that it can’t be called a success. Despite highly enjoyable moments and the welcome presence of Kate Winslet, even sympathetic viewers will be put off by the movie’s bewildering variety of genres and tones.
The film sets us up to expect the darkest sort of black comedy. It’s the 1950s and a gorgeously attired Tilly (Winslet) arrives in a backwater Australian village, with the stony-faced announcement, “I’m back, you bastards.” She’s a supremely talented fashion designer, intent on wielding her sewing machine to right some serious wrongs from the distant past.
The residents of this miserable burg are narrow-minded, dowdy and dumb. They would seem to be no match for revenge-minded Tilly, with her red lipstick, cigarettes and haute couture, the likes of which the local harridans have only goggled at in magazines.
Movie Review ★★
‘The Dressmaker,’ with Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth. Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, from a screenplay by Moorhouse and P.J. Hogan, based on a novel by Rosalie Ham. 118 minutes. Rated R for brief language and a scene of violence. Seven Gables.
Tilly moves into a dismal shack inhabited by a seeming madwoman, who turns out to be her mother, played by Judy Davis in an unbridled performance that steals the film. Both mom and daughter have serious memory issues, but it’s clear something horrible happened when Tilly was a child, which drove her to flee.
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The film, based on Rosalie Ham’s 2000 novel, turns on the promising idea that high fashion can be used as weapon, ensnaring the repulsive townswomen and underlining their ugly natures.
Director Jocelyn Moorhouse includes a cinematic quotation from “Sunset Boulevard,” and “The Dressmaker” does have its noir side. If only the mood was consistent. Instead, the film weaves in threads of melodrama and romance — the latter involving a rugby-playing stud (Liam Hemsworth) whose sleek body the film all but drools over when he is fitted for a suit by Tilly.
There’s more: A mystery is waiting to be solved involving a boy’s death, and much ado is made over a police officer’s cross-dressing. It all adds up to an awfully busy two hours.
Tonal inconsistencies sink “The Dressmaker,” and the same applies to Winslet’s character. The actress does her best with what she’s given, but the film never seems to get a handle on the character. Her hard edge comes and goes in a bewildering way.