‘The Dressmaker’: The Good, the Bad and the Not So Fabulous
If you were to take one part The Bride from “Kill Bill” and one part, insert the name of your favorite designer here, you'd have Myrtle Dunnage on your hands.
In “The Dressmaker,” Myrtle, a.k.a. Tilly (Kate Winslet), returns to Dungatar, the small Australian outback town she was run out of 25 years earlier. Now a talented dress designer and maker, Tilly is back to take care of her mother, Molly (Judy Davis), and to find out whether or not she actually killed a classmate before she was shipped out of town.
Hugo Weaving as Sergeant Farrat and Kate Winslet as Tilly Dunnage in Jocelyn Moorhouse’s ‘The Dressmaker,’ a Broad Green Pictures/Amazon Studios release. (Photo by Ben King. Courtesy of Broad Green Studios/Amazon Studios)
During her search for answers, Tilly encounters many people that hold the keys to her repressed memories and she's willing to do anything, including designing fabulous couture for them, to get the answers she needs.
But other things remain the same. Namely, people still blame Tilly for the death of Stewart Pettyman, including his father, Evan (Shane Bourne). The other glaring difference is the town's lawman, Sgt. Horatio Farrat (Hugo Weaving), has aged … and starting to become a little more open for his proclivity for wearing woman's clothing.
In a town full of adversaries, Tilly uses her skills and access to fabrics, designs and products the people of Dungatar wouldn't otherwise see to turn them to her good graces … until her more vocal enemies start fighting back.
It's hard to imagine a revenge flick centered around sewing machines and fashion working, but it does. At least for a while. Once the novelty wears off, the story gets a little thin. The jokes get progressively less funny, the tone more bitter and the plot more convoluted. There are, however, a couple of nice twists that add a little more to it.
Undoubtedly, people will rave about Winslet because she's Kate Winslet, but I felt this was a very pedestrian outing from a usually outstanding actress. The same could be said for Hemsworth, in a smaller part than we're used to seeing him in.
There are a couple of performances that flat out steal the show – Davis and Weaving are outstanding and painfully hilarious in their roles. As two of the few people in Dungatar that are loyal to Tilly not because of what she can do for them, they are likable (most everyone else isn't). But they also add a ton of levity to what would otherwise be a horribly depressing and dark story. That, I think, is what they were going for, but without the comic relief it would've been too dark and not in an interesting way. It just would've been a boring, somewhat twisted tale of a potentially murderous dressmaker who's looking for answers and revenge.
Given the pedigree of its two leading actors, “The Dressmaker” should have been better than it was. It had its moments, but at the end it felt like a story that would make more sense as a stage performance rather than a film. In that scenario I think it would be outstanding. Instead, it's more calendar filler until awards season gets underway.
★★ of ★★★★★