I wasn’t sure what to make of this movie. It looked like it was about a woman who’s been away from her hometown for an extended period after possibly maybe killing someone. Yet, when she gets there, she starts… making dresses for all the women in town. Uh… calling it, it’s going to lack focus big time.
But hey, who doesn’t love Kate Winslet, who looks… ugh, I hate letting my man-brain take over, but… she looks unbelievably hot in this movie. *SLAPS MYSELF* Okay, reverting back to being a gentleman. Winslet is a wonderful actress who’s had a career built from both her beauty and talent, exploiting both at the same time occasionally. Personally, big fan of hers ever since TITANIC (1997), and NO, not for obvious reasons! But some of my favorite movies with her include ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004), FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), and FLUSHED AWAY (2006). Even in the Divergent series, she was the only good thing in them. But it ain’t a one-woman show. Liam Hemsworth co-stars. The less recognized Hemsworth compared to his brother Thor- er, I mean, Chris- and usually has a lousy streak of being in less than good films. Personally, while I like Chris more, Liam is still a fine performer. The tweens out there will obviously know him from the Hunger Games movies. But he’s been in other films like INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE (2016), THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012), and THE LAST SONG (2010). Finally, and this took me by surprise, Hugo Weaving. This is a name all y’all should know, but for the sake of those living under rocks their whole lives because, you know, I wouldn’t discriminate like that, Weaving’s an icon in many of the most well-known films out there, frequenting trilogies. The Matrix trilogy, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films, and the first three Transformers movies. But he’s also done V FOR VENDETTA (2005), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), and CLOUD ATLAS (2012).
Now for behind the scenes. Directing and co-writing is Jocelyn Moorhouse. I can’t say I’m familiar with her work, and she hasn’t directed anything since 1997. A couple of her films in the 90’s include A THOUSAND ACRES (1997) and HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT (1995). Moorhouse’s partner-in-pen is P.J. Hogan. Again, not familiar with a lot of his work; just the 2008 film, PETER PAN. Composing is David Hirschfelder. He’s done the music for such films like THE WATER DIVINER (2014), LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE (2010), and AUSTRALIA (2008). Finally, the cinematographer is Donald McAlpine, who’s shot films such as ENDER’S GAME (2013), X-MEN ORGINS: WOLVERINE (2009), and MOULIN ROUGE! (2001).
Overall, I’m going in with no real expectations. It looks like it could be fun, but also it looks like it could easily be bad. Meh. This is my honest opinion of THE DRESSMAKER.
Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage (Kate Winslet) has returned to her hometown to settle a particular score with the townspeople. In her childhood, she was bullied by a rather nasty boy and one day, he died. His death was blamed on Tilly, due to testimonies and eye-witnesses, but in all the years that she’s been away, she doesn’t remember murdering the boy and has wondered ever since why the townsfolk sent her away. Moving in with her mother Molly (Judy Davis), who has become reclusive since her daughter’s banishment, the two aren’t reunited on the happiest of terms, as Molly believes the stories of her daughter killing the boy so long ago. Tilly’s return doesn’t just cause a stir among those that sent her away. As Tilly’s been trained and worked with some of the finest dressmakers in Europe, becoming a gifted dressmaker herself, her beauty eventually catches the eye of a local football player named Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth), who becomes infatuated with her, and her high-end fashion catches the eyes of some of the local women, looking to update their looks around town. So begins a series of making the women of the town fashionable as well as uncovering the truth of what happened in her youth.
This movie is so confused, so nonsensical… that I actually kind of had fun with it. Yeah, this might take some explaining, as my opinion will probably differ from most opinions.
Let’s start easy. Did you read my summary? You might have noticed that the movie feels like two separate stories. One’s trying to be a thriller about uncovering the truth, the other feels like a comedy of turning the women who are less glamorous against the women who are too pish-posh for such idle fancies. In a way, that’s exactly what this movie is. I can see someone out there declaring this movie unfocused because… well, it is. You have this dressmaker who’s come home to do her thing. Sure, she tries to reconcile with her estranged mother, but then… she’s making dresses for women who had a hand in her banishment from the town, who seem rather unapologetic about it. Um… hey movie, care to explain that one? Even later in the movie, those women that Tilly’s helped still churn out enough proverbial venom toward her to make rattlesnakes feel insignificant… while wearing Tilly’s custom made outfits. There’s a lot of question marks above this entire story. But like I said, I still kind of dug it.
First of all, Winslet is a winner. Has she been bad in anything? No, don’t point out movies that were bad, point out a bad performance. Yeah, that’s right. It don’t exist, and this is no exception. She’s got just enough sass to dish out to those who would see her leave again and Winslet is a thousand flavors of delightful.
Weaving, oh my lord, if Winslet is the delightful tight-ass, Weaving is on the opposite side of the spectrum. He’s a flamboyant… homosexual? Cross-dresser? Connoisseur of fine and elegant fabrics? Whatever he’d be considered, he delivers the best comedy in the movie, and that’s saying something. Winslet hisses at someone and her romantic interest is a charmingly cocky Hemsworth. The way he ogles over Tilly’s fabrics and outfits, it’s like a hit of cocaine for the guy and I can’t help but laugh hysterically at it. I wasn’t the only one either. Any time Weaving was on screen, the audience I was watching with loved his performance too.
Even Hemsworth does a passable job. Teddy is unfortunately a little too bland for my taste, as they only description you could possibly give him is, “female eye-candy,” which is exactly how he’s treated throughout the movie. He doesn’t really have a distinct personality other than generic good-looking charming guy. Luckily for Hemsworth, he is charming enough to be entertaining to watch and pull a scene through. That doesn’t quite make the performance memorable, but it’s serviceable in the moment.
But with all the good performances, are there any legitimately bad things to note? Well, I definitely do hate it when movies have things happen for the sake of just happening. For example, at some point in the first third of the film, a competitor for Tilly strolls into town. I honestly don’t even remember if she herself was once a resident of this place, or if she and Tilly have a history, it’s never explained. The women do seem to go through her for fashion, but is quickly regarded as an inferior dressmaker. Granted, there’s a hilarious scene involving a woman in an awful wedding dress running through the town trying to hide from her fiancé, but this character barely makes another appearance that has anything to do with the story. Hell, write her out completely and the movie would do just fine. I mean, it’s a two hour movie. Get rid of these scenes involving her and the film would still progress more than ninety minutes.
And this movie started off with some pretty dark and sadistic shit that is never really repeated. I am referring to a scene involving a guy who essentially drugs a woman he’s having an affair with and rapes her in her unconscious state. First of all, this guy barely has an appearance in the movie. He’s not a primary antagonist, he doesn’t really do anything more beyond this one fucked up thing, and he has a grand total of about ten to fifteen minutes worth of screentime. Sure, later on the audience learns his connection the events in question, but even that barely has any real impact on the characters or the story.
Also, as soon as she figures out that she didn’t kill the kid, you’d think it’s a happy ending. But no, it’s only at this moment that the story decides to have Tilly and Teddy develop their relationship… only to have him weirdly killed off… doing something even the movie kind of acknowledges makes no sense. He has this thing where he jumps into silos with… I couldn’t tell, some kind of grain, where the rats camp out and eat from. Only this time, the silo is filled with sorghum and he ends up suffocating to death. Then as she recovers from her depression from losing him, Molly suddenly dies! Oh my god, this movie forcibly kills off everyone that Tilly likes. Why? Was losing them really that necessary to lead to her burning down the town? I don’t understand the emotional assault on Tilly’s feelings here, but whatever.
I do truly believe that this movie won’t be for everyone. It’s pretty offbeat and unconventional, but I usually like movies that go for that, and I do like this movie. I wouldn’t say I loved it or anything and I might only see it once, but I sure did enjoy myself when watching it. If you’re looking for a different kind of comedy, this might be worth checking out. If you think it’s not for you, then it probably isn’t.
My honest rating for THE DRESSMAKER: a strong 3/5