The Dressmaker review

16 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Dressmaker’ review: Kate Winslet is your new wacky, awesome aunt.

Another Toronto Film Festival, another Kate Winslet vehicle that time, if it’s in a kind mood, will choose to forget. TORONTO – Though the Toronto International Film Festival lasts through Sunday the 20th, it’s already winding down today; crowds are noticeably smaller, Festival Street (the festive closed-off section of King Street, full of pedestrians and music and kiosks of all sorts) is only a memory, and most of the big-pedigree films have already screened. “The Martian” remains a favorite among the chatterers in line; I’m also hearing a lot of praise for “Anomalisa,” Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion animation comedy (which is here fresh off its grand jury prize win at the Venice Film Festival last weekend, and which unfortunately I wasn’t able to see) and for “Spotlight,” though with the latter it’s hard to tell how much of that is because journalists enjoy films about journalists. (Then again, a lot of us didn’t like “Truth” much.) Of the films remaining to be seen; well, sometimes there’s a reason a film doesn’t get an early slot. (It didn’t go unnoticed by me that Roland Emmerich’s drama “Stonewall” isn’t press-screening until Friday . . . . in other words, long after the majority of the reviewing press have left town.) “The Dressmaker,” this morning, was an odd, wildly uneven comedy starring Kate Winslet as a 1950s-era femme fatale in rural Australia.

Couldn’t get a ticket to the public screening doubling as the world premiere of “The Dressmaker” Monday night so opted for a press and industry screening this morning.This strange but not-very-successful film, based on a popular Australian novel, is a rare example of how sometimes a movie can still be enjoyable even when it is bad. In 2013, she brought Labor Day, a Mills & Boon melodrama about a woman kidnapped by a convict who helps her make peach pie, while last year saw her star as a French landscape gardener trapped in a laboured farce with Alan Rickman in the risible period comedy A Little Chaos. Judy Davis, as Winslet’s mother, hams it up like an Easter dinner; the absurdly handsome Liam Hemsworth goes dramatically shirtless (it’s like a peace offering to a restless audience); and the whole thing left me thinking that the novel, by Rosalie Ham, surely must be better. It would have been helpful to watch it with a (regular) audience and see how they rode the waves of comedy, tragedy, fiery score-settling, mystery, romance and a nod to women’s couture in the Australian Outback in 1951.

Winslet’s Tilly Dunnage is the prodigal daughter returning to a 1950s fictional, middle-of-nowhere berg loaded with quirky characters (think 90s TV show Northern Exposure but with sand instead of snow.) She’s come back to see her ailing mother, Mad Molly (Judy Davis), a crazy old bat who lives on a hill overlooking the town. She’s come a long way from her reign as Oscar favourite, with one win and five nominations in the bag, and her latest oddity is taking her even further afield.

Hemsworth took to Instagram on Tuesday, Sept. 15, to share a cheeky snap of himself wearing only a white tee and boxer briefs (and his complementary hat), which he captioned, “#TIFF15 #nopants #freeswag.” Charmed? Winslet is mysterious seamstress Tilly Dunnage, who steps off a blue bus in the opening minutes, plants her Singer sewing machine on the ground, and looks up at the dusty backwater that used to be her hometown.

Speaking of novels, I had a lovely interview today with Irish writer Emma Donoghue, who adapted her own novel “Room” for the screen. (The film, one of the highlights of the fest for me, is the harrowing yet lyrical story about a mother and child imprisoned for years in a shed, and their eventual immersion back into the world.) Interestingly; she told me that she began work on the script long ago, before the novel was even published; she had an inkling that the book might make a good film and wanted, she said, to have “first bash” at telling the story for the screen. She was shipped away from her single mother at age 10 after being accused of an awful crime – the details of which elude her – and she landed in Paris where she studied under legendary designer Madeleine Vionnet.

The Aussie actor hit the festival premiere of his latest film, The Dressmaker, the night before, and his costar Kate Winslet could not stop gushing about him. “[The Dressmaker] is a predominantly female cast, which is great fun, and it was filmed in Australia,” Winslet, 39, began, addressing the audience. “Australian actors are wonderful, incredible artists, and it’s a comedy which is different for me. There are scores to be settled, an amnesiac mother (Judy Davis) to be coaxed into lucidity, and a rugger-playing stud (Liam Hemsworth) to be stripped down to his boxers and ensnared.

For example, they were never able to have the traditional table read of the script, she said – because little Jacob Tremblay, who played Jack in the film, couldn’t read that fast yet. Hemsworth’s smile and physique are so arresting that you are supposed to not notice that his brother is barking clues to the great mystery the whole time. (One of a number of bunkum clichés.) Distraction through physicality is the name of the game in The Dressmaker. Now in their 80s, Cope and Nieves spoke about their long, passionate, troubled partnership of nearly 50 years; interspersed with glorious contemporary tango-flavored dance sequences depicting their lives. “We cursed each other when we danced,” recalled Nieves; whose still-fiery presence lights up the film. Is that why I’m cursed?” The costumes are gorgeous, from curve-hugging strapless gowns in red and black to a chartreuse dress and headpiece for a formal affair. The whole town bakes in the sun in their awful rags, but Tilly comes to down in a blazing red dress, causing all the footballers to trip over one another.

Last few films: the British thriller “A Patch of Fog” later tonight; Stephen Frears’ Lance Armstrong biopic “The Program” early tomorrow, then home I go. Every performance, every musical cue and every camera angle is dialled up to 11 with broad physical comedy taking preference over genuine wit and dialogue often drowned out in screeching. While the local lads are playing rugby, she swans up to the pitch like a scarlet empress on heat, and distracts all the players into tumbling all over each other.

The plot encompases everything from child death to marital rape to domestic violence but always with a spring in its step, giving a lightness to dark material but without the smarts to make it sell as a black comedy. For reasons that are a little vague (remember, so many are suffering from varying degrees of amnesia) there commences a round-robin of bitchy backbiting. At times, amidst the often exhausting chaos on show, it also wants to be taken seriously, especially near the end with tragedy fitting in uneasily around the grisly mayhem.

One moment Winslet is destroying a rugby match by seductively taking her gloves off and minutes later, the parents of the child she might have killed are hiring a rival dressmaker to take her down. The ensemble gives us a delightful village idiot called Barney (Gyton Grantley), Kerry Fox as a bitchy matron, Sarah Snook as a bullied wallflower gagging for a makeover. He happens to be a cross-dresser who squeals at the mere touch of a feather boa and brags about his own sartorial skills (“I’m brilliant with sequins”). It’s her very own Lady in the Van performance, only with a script to make Alan Bennett spit his tea out. “Who in their right mind would be up there raping Mad Molly?”, Hemsworth ponders, overhearing Davis being bundled by her daughter, clawing and screaming, into a bath full of dead insects.

As a community outsider with secrets and a flair for the flamboyant, one can see how Winslet is leaning in to a growing career as a gay icon. (Her striking, increasing physical resemblance to Madonna only adds more fuel to this fire.) Hugo Weaving, harking back indulgently to his Priscilla, Queen of the Desert days, gets a wearily obligatory gay supporting role as a police sergeant who wants to try on Tilly’s entire wardrobe. She also has a romance with a local played by Liam Hemsworth, who is 25, who remembers her before she left, even though he wouldn’t have been born then. While it’s nice to finally see the tables turned and to see a woman in a relationship with a younger man, it would be been a nice touch if it had made any actual sense.

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