Friday, September 9, 2016
In Jocelyn Moorhouse's The Dressmaker, the first words we hear from childhood bully magnet turned fashion plate Tilly (Kate Winslet) come after she steps off a bus into her one-horse hometown, lights a cigarette, and coolly surveys the façades on a street that brings to mind the set for a 1950s western. “I'm back, you bastards,” she hisses. After that brashly meta opener, you might expect a smartly constructed Tarantino-style black comedy of retribution, but the film fails to deliver on that promise, devolving instead into a dispiriting tonal mishmash of mean-spirited revenge fantasy, girl-power romantic fantasy, and comedy so broad it tips into caricature.
The revenge fantasy is baked into the main narrative, in which Tilly uses her near-supernatural skills as a dressmaker to transform the disheveled women of Dungatar, Australia into sleek, chic creatures, getting close enough to her former neighbors to unearth their sad or sordid secrets and solve the mystery of a death they've been wrongfully pinning on her for decades. Meanwhile, her hunky love interest, Teddy (Liam Hemsworth), might have walked straight out of a romance novel, with his washboard abs, hipster beard, and steadfast adoration of Tilly. And the film's reductive, often cruel depiction of nearly all the other townspeople feels like a clumsily drawn cartoon. Read the rest in Slant Magazine