“The Dressmaker” Leaves Viewers Scratching Their Heads

As soon as the credits rolled the mixed emotions and opinions of viewers could be heard throughout the theater. What exactly was that? Starting as a slapstick, American sitcom, morphing into a bodice ripping romance and finishing with a violent horror bent, The Dressmaker is an unexpectedly complex picture, which is sure to keep you thinking about it long after you’ve left the theater.

Set in a small Australian village, the film stars Kate Winslet as Myrtle Dunnage. She arrives “home” to care for her decrepit mother (Judy Davis), and to solve a mystery about a moment in her past that continues to haunt her. The town is full of colorful personalities. There’s Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hensworth), a boy she used to know who has grown into the town’s favorite rugby player. Sargent Farrat (Hugo Weaving) is the town’s marshal who has a secret penchant for dressing in woman’s clothes. Gertrude (Sarah Snook), is the “regular girl” who Myrtle turns glamorous as soon as she wears her clothes, and Una Pleasance (Sacha Horler) is the designer brought to town to compete with Myrtle’s successful design company, which is slowly overtaking the town.

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The performances are steady, and sturdy. The sets and scenic design are impeccable. There’s a strong score by David Hirschfelder and there are weighty costumes that command the screen. With all of these strengths, how can one come away scratching their head wondering if what they saw was good? Because the story is so strange, and the script so uneven, that something is left missing.

Watching The Dressmaker is like watching three separate films at once. Unfortunately, the first third is almost unwatchable. The painfully stilted jokes, and dumb humor bore and dumb-down the film. The second, bodice-ripping segment continues the over-the-top tropes of that type of film. This section is a bit more interesting than the first because a few of the characters are fleshed out, and Hemsworth’s flesh comes out which brought audible sighs from the viewing I attended. The film really becomes interesting is in it’s final act. The third section becomes a revenge film in every way imaginable. Moral wrongs are righted  by the people who caused them, mother nature, or the fate of the land. Based on the book by Rosalie Ham, the film gives Americans an untethered look at life in a small Australian town.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse
Writer: Rosalie Ham
Starring: Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Judy Davis, Kerry Fox
Runtime: 119 minutes
Release date: 2015 (Australia) 2016 (USA)
MPAA rating: R

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