The Lowdown Under
Stephen A. Russell
October 28, 2015
Barmy Rom Com Gothic Horror Mystery Sets The Outback Alight With Maniacal Glee. Kate Winslet And Judy Davis Are Divine, With Liam Hemsworth Holding His Own.
Jocelyn Moorhouse, the Australian director behind Proof and How to Make An American Quilt, returns to the big screen with a bang after almost two decades away with an utterly barmy take on Rosalie Ham’s quirky outback-set rom com vengeance mystery.
Running with, rather than taming, the novel’s wild tonal shifts, Moorhouse penned this adaptation alongside husband P.J. Hogan of Muriel’s Wedding fame and while it’s undoubtedly bonkers, it’s delivered with such maniacal gusto that somehow it soars.
Casting the incredible Kate Winslet as our anti-heroine Myrtle, now Tilly, Dunnage is a stroke of genius, and she nails the Aussie accent with aplomb, “I’m back, you bastards.”
Returning on a Greyhound bus, fag in mouth, after a long spell away from the one-strip town of Dungatar, its very name suggestive of a certain stench, she brings with her an immaculate grasp of ’50s fashion accrued in Parisian ateliers.
It’s a skill that finds her in high demand amongst the snickering, gossipy and appropriately named ladies who nevertheless treat her like a pariah, including dowdy shop girl Gertrude Pratt (Sarah Snook), her mother Muriel (Rebecca Gibney) and Kerry Fox’ nasty schoolmarm Beulah Harridiene.
While Tilly’s irresistibly glamorous appearance can stop a local footy match in its tracks, there’s a dark cloud cast over her childhood, with whispers of a murder she cannot remember, presumably due to post-traumatic stress. She wants her missing memories back and to take her revenge against a lascivious and creepy crawly Councillor Pettyman (Shane Bourne) and the town’s shrewish women, though not before making them all look a million times better thanks to her nifty knack for transforming fabric into fabulous outfits (props to costume designers Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson) in a smart switch of the power dynamic.
Tilly’s outsider status isn’t improved by the cranky, self-imposed isolation of her ‘mad’ mother Molly, a magnificent Judy Davis, holed up in their crumbling family home on the top of the hill, looking for all the world like the sort of haunt Wolf Creek’s Mick Taylor would set up shop in and reeking of possum piss.
The only people who seem happy to have Tillly back are similarly sartorially obsessed copper Sergeant Farrat, played with cross-dressing glee by Hugo Weaving, and hunky local lad Teddy (Liam Hemsworth). The latter clearly has the hots for Tilly, with Winslet so radiant you can easily overlook the fact she’s playing his contemporary despite being 15 years older.
When Hemsworth gets his top off, abs a rippling, so Tilly can fit him for a suit, the friction positively ricochets around the room in a truly gorgeous scene set to the refrain of South Pacific. It’s just one of several filmic nods that includes a riotous bit of back chat hollered by Molly at Gloria Swanson when Tilly and Teddy take her to see Sunset Boulevard.
There’s a zingy campery to The Dressmaker that’s hard to resist, suggesting an early career Baz Luhrman not yet drunk on mega-budgets, delivered with a dash of the peculiarly Aussie, cheeky humour skilfully smuggling unexpected pathos, a la Muriel’s and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. There are even all-out jolts of gothic horror that will have the rom com set flinching in fear amidst the stagey theatricality.
Some will find Moorhouse’s strict adherence to the rambling nature of Ham’s novel off-putting, but I savoured its saucy silliness sold on the shoulders of Winslet and Davis’ greatness. This is one stitch up you’re going to want to unravel.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords
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