So, one could describe The Dressmaker as “Chocolat meets The Count of Monte Cristo.” Sounds like the best movie ever, right? Except there’s no blending of these two elements: it is a Frankenfilm. First it’s the one movie, and then it’s the other.
The basic setup: Kate Winslet plays Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage, a successful Paris fashion designer, who returns to her dusty, small-minded home town (in rural Australia), because she believes she is cursed. She wants to break the curse by finding out whether or not she committed a murder she was blamed for when she was just a child. She can’t remember, and the townsfolk, while full to the brim with damning gossip, are closed-mouthed when it comes to facts. She has also come back to see her mother, the local loon, “Mad Molly” (Judy Davis), and quickly falls in with a boy she vaguely knew from childhood, Teddy (Liam Hemsworth), who is, as far as I can tell, part of a family of itinerant workers who have more or less settled there. (Or one might say that they’re gypsies: Hello, Chocolat.)
I wish they would have stuck to making just the one sort of film, because I liked them both: The Chocolat, Cold Comfort Farm, Hope Floats, “glamorous girl comes to rural backwater and shakes things up” plot, and the black-as-velvet comedy/ murder mystery/ revenge plot.
(Speaking of Cold Comfort Farm – there’s an almost identical scene in The Dressmaker, wherein a girl gets a makeover to win a boy above her station. I have to say, although Cold Comfort Farm is the superior film, the makeover in The Dressmaker is much more breathtaking.)
Davis, un-glamorous and fabulous
Judy Davis and Kate Winslet are fantastic in this movie, especially in their scenes together. Davis particularly shines, as a woman gripped with dementia, slowly regaining her facilities (if not her tact), under the administrations of her long-lost daughter. If you are a fan of great acting for great acting’s sake, then see this movie. Also, if you like stunning 50’s fashion. And/or Liam Hemsworth with his shirt off. There’s plenty of that, and he holds up his end of the exchange quite nicely. Plus, there are some truly funny moments, especially anything involving Hugo Weaving as a local police officer and closet transvestite. But frustration over the thematic incertitude casts a pall over the whole enterprise.