The Dressmaker (2015)


From the one clip I’d seen, along with the posters, I expected a completely different type of movie. I’ve let this movie simmer for a day to try and decide whether I liked it or not, sufficed to stay I still don’t know. That could be bad on my part but it’s such a varying film of heightened moments that it had and still has me thrown.

The movie sees Myrtle or ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet) return to her very small hometown of Dungatar. This doesn’t please the residents who know of Tilly as the murderer of a young boy when she too was only a child. Tilly tries helping her mum Molly (Judy Davis) and the townsfolk with her attained skill of sewing. Along the way she makes dresses, unearths the truth and plans her revenge.

Jocelyn Moorhouse directs this…um, well, hybrid film with a considerable talent.  Even if I found myself disliking parts and wondering what in the sweet world I was watching, she definitely keeps the movie ticking along and strings it up with a clear playfulness. It could be viewed that this playful nature goes too far and makes the film look like a wreck, I wouldn’t be that harsh but I can see that side of things, as whilst Moorhouse does the whole Western opener well and lifts the roof with black comedy, she’s taken perhaps too big a bite of the proverbial apple in trying to play around with lots of genres/ideas.

At least the look of this Australian set mash up of genres is quality. The opening is like a Clint Eastwood scene, only with a leather cased sewing machine as the so called weapon. The town is like a stage setting, a deserted and backwards area leading most of the attention to Mad Molly’s house. The best visual thread is the costuming, the people of that department have done a fantastic job in selling these dresses as life changing items for the otherwise nasty residents. I mean it does get ridiculous fast in what they end up wearing and the whole cross dressing, fashion loving cop is something I utterly disliked. It can be done right, but most of the time I think drag comedy is the lowest art form in trying to produce laughs.

Moorhouse and P. J. Hogan seam the screenplay with a buzzing whirlwind of madness on Tilly’s stitched together revenge plan. It has some moments that I enjoyed, the writing almost feels clever but then we’re lurched into a new type of idea or genre. This feeling is ever present throughout the script making me at least find the movie scattershot and hard to ever get into. It’s ludicrous and barmy and their writing resembles the chaotic nature of farce which is all fine but then they swing back into drama or death, leading us to one totally unexpected moment, unless you’d read the book of course.

I truly liked that unexpected moment, just for the ballsy did-they-just-do-that scene. It came at a time that felt odd but somehow right for the acts of the movie but then my other major problem with this film crashed back in; the structure. The second act is so long and skitters all over the place making it feel that one minute it could be the third act and then we’re still in the climax and resolutions of the second. The third act does eventually come but even with the revenge plan being executed doesn’t help speed up the pace. The film’s plot and therefore structure is so offbeat that watching it feels off with the constant meandering beat.

Kate Winslet plays Myrtle/Tilly greatly, caught up with genuine drama face as she tries to make her mum remember her or scheming eyes that sell the brainy side of her as she plots her come back to the Dungatar folk. Judy Davis made the film, stopping the more slapstick side of things from going overboard with her deadpan dialogue. Liam Hemsworth is watchable and charming as the hunk with a heart but he doesn’t get too much to really do. Sarah Snook was the most interesting for me, just because her character was so badly drawn in being meek and then whammo, hot and bitchy like a ‘Mean Girls’ Plastic. Hugo Weaving is always a treat to watch and he does give the sergeant charisma and sass but it becomes over the top.

I still don’t know where I am with this film, it veers so often and so wildly that I can’t put my finger on what it really did in terms of film-making. I can’t see it hitting best film lists or awards noms, it’s merely a silly and crazed trip Down Under that isn’t really entertaining and appears like an old fashioned feature but without the class.



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