Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Dressmaker

Stuck late in work, so I couldn't get to Rocky in 35mm at the Coolidge, so I couldn't check that off my list of "movies everybody is assumed to have seen but I haven't". On the other hand, seeing a bunch of those in all the millimeters at the Somerville over the past week or so has taken the sting out of that.

It's a weird movie, tough to categorize in some ways, with probably the best indication of how that's the case being that AMC played the "thriller" intro clip and a trailer package featuring that sort of movie, and that really wasn't the sort of vibe I got from the poster and descriptions I'd seen for it (I don't recall ever seeing a preview); even the ones that hinted at Tilly getting even for past injustices made it sound more comic than it was. There's so much slapstick in this movie that while I'm sure you can find plenty of suspense films that are similar, it feels like a comedy for a long time.

(Aside: Director Jocelyn Moorhouse's husband P.J. Hogan is not just credited as a co-writer and producer, but as the second unit director. I don't make note of them being married in the main review because I don't even want to hint that it's less her movie, but I do find it interesting because I tend to think of second unit as a job for people on their way up than someone as relatively established as Hogan, even if he hasn't really done a whole lot since that version of Peter Pan that everyone realized they liked after the fact. Really, the only other instance I can think of off the top of my head where someone relatively well-known like that did such anonymous work is Sam Raimi doing the same job on The Hudsucker Proxy and Steven Soderbergh doing the same on The Hunger Games.)

It's kind of a bummer that EFC has star ratings at times, because I kind of have to mark down that The Dressmaker is disappointing and below average, even though there's enough stuff that I like in it that I wouldn't call it a "do not see". It is, however, the sort of movie where membership at your local independent boutique house or MoviePass is kind of terrific, because while this might not necessarily be worth $15 to you, it's at least got enough interesting bits and looks nice enough that there's value to seeing it on the big screen, and to the filmmakers and distributors getting a little money for doing something unusual.

The Dressmaker

* * (out of four)
Seen 26 September 2016 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

The Dressmaker feels like somebody had a script for a nasty, weird sort of film noir, but it was only an hour long, so they padded it out with charmingly quirky material that it was playing as twisted otherwise, and then bolted the two halves of the movie together in a way that doesn't work with either. Being eccentric in either direction might have made a memorable movie; trying to be both just makes a mess.

It starts memorably enough, as impeccably dressed Myrtle Dunnage (Kate Winslet), now going by Tilly, gets off the bus in her remote Australian hometown, declaring that she is back and remembered every horrible thing done to her as a child. She makes her way back to her old house, where mother "Mad Molly" (Judy Davis) doesn't recognize her but both Sergeant Farrat (Hugo Weaving) and handsome neighbor Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth) do. In her time away, Tilly has become a brilliant seamstress and designer, but how will that help her get revenge - or discover whether she is really committed a murder as a child like people said?

The early scenes of The Dressmaker are as impressively vicious as it is off-kilter, from the flashbacks of kids being cruel to each other to the well-dressed femme fatale vowing revenge to how even an amusing bit of physical comedy comes with the acknowledgment that the funny old man has a long history of beating his wife. Even if there are explanations for why there seems to be such a gap in the Dunnages' memories as to just what Tilly did to be exiled (she was about ten and her mother has seriously deteriorated), it certainly feels like it's too dark to remember. How she'll be able to weaponize good taste and skill with a sewing machine to get her revenge is a fair question, but it's one that promises to be entertaining - even if being distractingly sexy seems a bit like an overused joke, an early scene where she's pulling golf tees out of loops integrated into her stylish dress like a bandolier (with her house on top of a hill, she can target the rest of the town with an accurate drive), or as former classmate Gertrude Pratt (Sarah Snook) trades sharp, frank lines with Tilly while engaging her services. That's a scene that plays like film noir gangsters planning to work together despite past double-crosses, only it's about how she was mean as a kid and wanting a pretty dress.

Full review on EFC.

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