Matt’s Movie Review
October 28, 2015
A madcap tale of revenge, The Dressmaker unabashedly blends genre and style as black comedy meets romantic drama and the elegant clashes with the grotesque, to make for a spirited and visually engaging romp of a movie.
Australian films have a tendency to venture into bizarre, almost surreal territory. From Mad Max and its leather bound road warrior mutants battling across the outback; to Strictly Ballroom and its peroxide infused, tanned to charcoal, sequence wearing dances strutting their stuff around a colourful suburban Sydney, “normal” is rarely an option when it comes to many an Aussie production.
The Dressmaker follows suit, and all for the better. At first glance the films screams “classic romance” of the David Lean variety, as Oscar winning actress is dressed elegantly in front of a big country setting. Yet this Jocelyn Moorhouse directed adaptation of the Rosalie Ham novel of the same name refuses to play by convention, as black comedy, murder mystery, sensual romance, spaghetti western and oddball characters converge to make a revenge tale that is as unique as it is entertaining.
The spaghetti western motif is especially strong, as Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage (Kate Winslet) returns to her dustbowl of a hometown – the fictional Dungatar – dressed to the nines in an elegant, figure hugging number that Winslet rocks just as Clint Eastwood did a poncho in A Fistful of Dollars. Tilly has returned to take care of her ill mother Molly (Judy Davis), and to solve the mystery of a childhood tragedy that saw her sent away. Her return is not welcomed by the townsfolk.
It is very easy to get on Tilly’s side. Many of the characters of Dungatar have a repugnance to them, with great makeup and hair designs by Shane Thomas and Helen Magelaki giving a visual cue to the repulsive nature of these characters, and from Barry Otto’s judgemental hunchbacked pharmacist to Kerry Fox’s disturbingly cruel teacher, they are indeed just that.
Winselt instils Tilly with just that spunk, defiance and style (not to mention the same on the mark Australian accent used in Holy Smoke) needed to make her wronged heroine work so well. Winslet’s fiery clashes with Davis are especially entertaining, and her chemistry with Liam Hemsworth (who delivers his most assured and confident performance yet as the towns football star Teddy) is very palpable.
This is the first film in 18 years from director Jocelyn Moorhouse, who after making a splash with her 1991 breakthrough Proof (the film which launched the careers of Russell Crowe and Hugo Weaving) was unable to gain much in the way of momentum during a brief period in Hollywood. With The Dressmaker, Moorhouse re-establishes herself as a filmmaker that is able to capture raw emotion, campy humour and pure style in the one frame.
Such motley elements can fumble in the wrong hands, yet Moorhouse makes the varied components of The Dressmaker work to make for unexpected, yet entertaining viewing.