Australian film “The Dressmaker” is mildly entertaining as it tries to stitch different patches together for dressing up its comic revenge story. The overall result is not that satisfying, but it is not wholly without fun and charm thanks to a number of enjoyable things including the lively performances from its talented main cast members.
Kate Winslet, who is currently enjoying the praises and accolades on her Oscar-nominated turn in “Steve Jobs” (2015), plays Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage, a sassy woman who is returning to a small Australian outback town named Dungatar when we meet her during the opening scene. 25 years ago, young Tilly was sent away from her hometown after some unpleasant incident, and it is pretty apparent that she is determined to settle her old score through her dressmaking skill she has honed for many years in Paris.
As she settles in her old shabby house where her mentally unstable mother Molly (Judy Davis, who completely immerses herself into dinghy harridan mode) has lived alone, the news of her unexpected return is quickly spread around this small town where everyone knows everybody. Many town residents, who are mostly your average colorful stock caricatures, are not so pleased about this news because they still remember well why she was sent away 25 years ago, but they cannot help but look at how much she looks different now as a confident, sophisticated dressmaker lady, and she surely makes a big impression right in front of them during one town event.
She soon initiates her dressmaking business as the first step of whatever she is planning in her mind, and she does know how to make ladies look sexy and gorgeous. When one of her old schoolmates visits Tilly’s house as her first client, she looks frumpy and mousy, but, what do you know, she is turned into the sexist girl in the town when she appears in the next scene. Sarah Snook, who gave a wonderful breakthrough performance in small SF gem “Predestination” (2014) and recently played a supporting character in “Steve Jobs”, deserved to be mentioned for her character’s effective transformation, and it is a shame that the movie does not utilize her talent much after that point.
Thanks to this first success, more customers come to Tilly’s house, but that old incident in question still remains around her as before. As implied during the opening scene, it was involved with some mean boy who bullied young Tilly with other kids, and Tilly believes she was not responsible for what happened at that time, but she somehow cannot remember the details of the incident very well.
At least, there are a few people who become close to her unlike others in the town. While Sergeant Horatio Farrat (Hugo Weaving), who really cared about young Tilly as handling the aftermath of the incident, is glad to have someone to understand his closeted personal taste, Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth), a hunky guy who has lived around Tilly’s house along with his poor family, still has a crush on her as he did when they were kids, and he is willing to come closer to her if she says yes. Although she does not seem to welcome her daughter much at first, Molly eventually becomes her daughter’s No.1 supporter; after all, she is the one who taught sewing to Tilly from the beginning, and this grumpy old lady has lost none of her skills even though her mind does not function well at times.
Bumping along its rather uneven narrative which often feels clunky in its shifting tone, the screenplay by the director Jocelyn Moorhouse and her co-writer P. J. Hogan, which is based on the novel of the same name by Rosalie Ham, provides us some nice comic moments to tickle us. When another dressmaker is brought to the town for stopping Tilly’s thriving business, this new situation is developed into a loony chase sequence which leads up to Tilly’s quick job on a wedding dress in the dire need of remodeling, and then we are served with another comic situation when the town really needs Tilly’s service later in the story.
Its third act coupled with a sudden dramatic turn does not work as much as intended, but Winslet holds the center even during this weak part. Thanks to her radiant performance, the movie maintains a considerable amount of interest on her character’s drama, and Winslet also looks terrific with her clothes made by the costume designers Margot Wilson and Marion Boyce. As the possible love interest of Winslet’s character, Liam Hemsworth may be a little too young (she is 40 while he is 26), but he looks older compared to his recent turn in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” (2015), and he and Winslet actually look convincing as their characters find themselves drawn to each other more.
Two other main performers in the film have a juicy fun with their respective roles. While Judi Davis is delightful to watch in her scene-stealing supporting performance, Hugo Weaving, who previously worked with Moorehouse in “Proof” (1991), is solid in his most cheerful role since “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (1994), and some of you may be surprised by the other side of this talented Australian actor, which has been unfortunately eclipsed by his more famous works in the Matrix Trilogy and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Although I am hesitating to recommend it, “The Dressmaker” is a watchable comedy film with several good things to notice. I was not wholly involved in its whimsical style and storytelling reminiscent of those quirky Australian comedy films such as “Welcome to Woop Woop” (1997), and its literally blazing finale could be more dramatically impactful if the build-up process before that were handled less hurriedly, but I do not deny that I got a fair share of amusement during my viewing. It could be better, but it is not so bad anyway.