Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse
Run Time: 1h 59m
Saw The Dressmaker the other day. Only once. Once is enough.
Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet) has been through quite a lot since she was banished from her tiny hometown of Dungatar, Australia. She has seen the world while studying fashion and all things fabulous. But no amount of fabric or frills could make her put the past completely behind her. She surprises everyone when she shows up under the cover of night to face the townspeople for accusing her of a crime she may or may not have committed when she was just a child. Her batsh*t crazy mother Mad Molly (Judy Davis) isn’t happy to see her, but that’s mostly because she’s out of her mind and has no idea who Tilly is. Everyone else in town shares Molly’s unwelcoming nature towards Tilly, save for Sergeant Farrat (Hugo Weaving) and the painfully handsome Teddy (Liam Hemsworth). It’s only when Tilly gives an old friend a drastic makeover that the women begin to come around and allow Tilly to transform the dusty forgotten town into a fashionable paradise one dress at a time. What they don’t know is Tilly is trading garments for information, trying to get to the bottom of what happened all those years ago that sent Tilly into exile. What she believes to be her greatest revenge could very well be the undoing of everything…and everyone…she’s ever known.
What started out as a fun, twisted game of seamstress and suspects quickly lost all appeal and ended in a blaze of chaotic melancholy. I left the theater wondering what the hell I had just seen… and why on Earth had I seen it!?
Since the film is called The Dressmaker I am happy to report they had great success in the costume department. Tilly’s designs were just as eye-catching to the audience as they were to the people of Dungatar. The clothes provided a very Pleasantville-esque transition for the town because Tilly’s outfits were a vibrant contrast to the typical muted palate the townsfolk had grown accustomed to. Any sort of color or pattern was reserved for the wealthier inhabitants and it was clever to watch the line between “proper” and “poor” become blurred. The clothes were a visual symbol of this shift while we learn how true the metaphorical shift really was.
I also can’t say enough for Winslet, Weaving, and Davis. Weaving plays a closet cross-dresser and he is the personification glamour. Davis couldn’t be more perfect as a drunken mad woman who is always up to something. She’s quick with the comebacks and the banter between her and Winslet is wildly funny. However, it’s Winslet’s performance that holds it all together. I think Weaving and Davis could have given the same performance with another actress at the helm and it would not have been as successful. Tilly is a complex, severely flawed character and Winslet brings her to life. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Winslet fail in any role. As much as I disliked the film as a whole, Winslet saved it from being a complete disaster.
My least favorite casting choice? Little Hemsworth. It has nothing to do with him personally or his ability as an actor; I actually think he’s quite good. My issue is how difficult it was to remember that he and Winslet were supposed to be the same age. Try as the writers might to remind us as often as possible, it was way too distracting. It is common in Hollywood for actors to play characters much older or younger than they really are, and the 41-year-old Winslet can easily pull off a 30-something Tilly. But Tilly has been away from home for 25 years. Hemsworth is 26. I am not an all in opposition of a romantic age gap — Husband and I share a similar gap to that of Winslet and Hemsworth, just in reverse. My complaint is that Winslet and Hemsworth side-by-side couldn’t fool me into believing they could’ve been childhood acquaintances. Teddy needed to be represented by someone a bit older.
The Dressmaker suffered horribly from a sever identity crisis. It never settled into being a comedy with dramatic moments or a drama with comedic moments. The balance was off and I felt more and more confused as the minutes ticked by. I wasn’t sure when I was supposed to laugh or cringe so a lot of the heavy moments missed their marks because I was too busy trying to dissect the context and figure out the reaction I was supposed to have. You shouldn’t have to guess at your emotions while watching a film. I believe a film should guide you on an emotional journey without you realizing you’ve released control. My subconscious just kept fighting back and ultimately it was a major turnoff. By the time I arrived as the climax of the story I was certain I never wanted to watch this movie again.
Any die hard Winslet fans will probably be okay to stream The Dressmaker one day. But I wouldn’t pay more than a couple dollars to suffer through two hours of whatever this was supposed to be.
Winslet is no stranger to shaking things up with the use of design. In 2014 she used plants instead of dresses to make a lasting impression on King Louis XIV and his court in A Little Chaos.