Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse
Writers: Jocelyn Moorhouse & P.J. Hogan
Cinematographer: Donald McAlpine
Composer: David Hirschfelder
Cast: Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving.
An impeccably well dressed woman struts her way into an Australian desert village, or rather just a smattering of wood houses, ready to wreak havoc and bring about profound change to the small town. The year is 1926 and Myrtle Dunnage (Kate Winslet) has returned from an imposed exile stemming from a childhood mishap she cannot recall the details to, in order to fill in the blanks where her memory fails her and to exact revenge on a town that had mistreated her her whole life. Myrtle moves back into her mother’s shack, a mother (Judy Davis, Husbands and Wives) that doesn’t seem to remember her own daughter but who also seems unaware of much and whose relationship with reality is faulty at best. The town visibly shakes when the villagers realize she is back in town, a disquieting force takes hold in the form of a young woman wearing French couture from head to toe.
Myrtle’s mere presence provokes many conflicting reactions, the rest of the townies don’t seem to want her there and are uneasy around her, and yet are attracted by the frocks the woman is able to produce. The desire to awe through fashion has people conveniently, but also only superficially, overcome their prejudice in order to be able to commission their very own designer stylings. Even the town’s copper (The Matrix‘s Hugo Weaving), a closeted middle aged man, is not immune to the call of satin and velvet. In fact, the only person who doesn’t seem to be immediately drawn to Myrtle and her stylish ways is Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth, The Hunger Games), the handsome and rugged childhood friend of the woman. Love, betrayal, tragedy, revenge, all the ingredients for a soapy and lively period piece are present.
For a derelict desert town with only shades of brown, the cinematography is actually quite impressive. The camera spans across space and the perspectives change in interesting ways. Mostly, though, the lens is obsessed with the clothing and shapes that Myrtle (also known as Tilly) is able to produce. The vibrancy of the colors and the interesting ways in which the fabrics meet and diverge provide visual stimuli that captivate and provoke emotion and reactions in ways only art knows how to. Jocelyn Moorhouse, with her first directing stint in almost twenty years, is extremely skilled and knowledgable, which makes one wonder why she hasn’t directed a film since 1997. The script, penned by Moorhouse and her husband P.J. Hogan (the director of Muriel’s Wedding and My Best Friend’s Wedding), is a bit weak and expects the cast to overcome some pretty laughable and awkward lines of dialogue. Speaking of the cast, they all do a really great job, in spite of the fact that we are supposed to believe that Kate Winslet, who is now 40, is playing someone in her late 20’s. That aside, Winslet, as usual, is mesmerizing and more beautiful than ever. I will never grow tired of her. She plays the protagonist, and ably taps into a vast array of emotions in the way that only the most skilled of performers can. She is matched by Judy Davis, who plays her mother in the film. Sometimes Davis gets way too into the crazy character, which verges on insane, but it’s clear that she is having fun and it’s so great to see the underutilized actress finally able to play a fun and good role. I was even impressed by Liam Hemsworth, as Winslet’s romantic interest, and this role seem to be a graduation into more mature roles and out of the teen and young adult roles he’s been getting thus far. He is a believable adult, he is handsome and sexy, and it’s credible that he and Winslet would be into each other. Hemsworth could actually take over the roles that the now aging Hugh Jackman can’t make for much longer and that made him famous and quite wealthy.
Not the most original of films and not always perfectly even or cohesive, The Dressmaker is nonetheless a gorgeous film with really good performances. It’s also fun, engaging, and overall a great way to spend a couple of hours. It’s not the most memorable of films, but not bad at all.