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« HBO's LGBT History: Middle Sexes (2005)| Main| TIFF: "Room"is a Total Knockout »
Wednesday
Sep 16 2015

TIFF: Kate Winslet Goes Couture in 'The Dressmaker'

Glennhere.I'm not in Toronto (booo!),but I did get to see this homegrown film recently so let's talk aboutThe Dressmaker.This is a film thatmakes a lot better sense when the end credits roll and you realize that director JocelynMoorhouseco-wrote the screenplay with her husband,none other than P.J.Hogan.It makes sense becauseThe Dressmaker,despite the refinement suggested by its prestige audience-courting title,iskindacrazy.It is a buoyantly excessive feat of far-fetched camp that isn't as good as its highly-stylized cinematic cousins of the early 1990s such asStrictly Ballroom,The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert,and Hogan's ownMuriel's Wedding,yet which nonetheless has enough of a unique voice to work as a very Australian piece of crowd-pleasuring fluff.It's the cinematic equivalent of Betsy Johnson designing anhautecouture line forDior.[more...]

This film marks Moorhouse's first film in a whopping 18 years,and her first Australian one sinceProofin 1991.You would be forgiven for thinking the filmmaker who made that film,one of the true Australian greats,as well asHow to Make an American QuiltandA Thousand Acresdidn't have a hand inThe Dressmaker,but stranger things have happened and maybe she's just a little bit rusty behind the camera.Her latest stars KateWinsletas Myrtle "Tilly"Dunnage,who as a child left her small hometown in rural Australia under a cloud of suspicion in the death of a fellow schoolboy.Shipped off to a boarding school and then spending her years touring the world's fashion capitals like Paris and Milan,she returns toDungatarolder and determined to uncover the truth.And because the motto of this movie is "Why not?!?",at the same time Myrtle sets up a dressmaking business in the home of her aging,mentally frail mother who the townspeople have nicknamed Mad Mona,played by a divinely scene-chewing Judy Davis,and turning the town into the most surprising of fashion hubs.

"Unforgivenwith a sewing machine"is howThe Dressmakerwas described early on in its life,and by the time this film's hectic revenge-laden climax involvingMacbeth,Gilbert and Sullivan and a red carpet comes to pass audiences will have likely already decided whether they are on board with its fashionably derangedhijinksor not.While I was certainly taken by surprise,what makes the film work is how in spite of all the lunacy on parade – I haven't mentioned Hugo Weaving as a cross-dressing Sergeant and Barry Otto as a slut-shaming hunchback,orSachaHorleras a rival designer brought into town to put Myrtle out of business – is the precisely human qualities the actors bring to their roles.

Even if many characters are one-note,they still feel like they have a shared history woven through their lives in Dungatar.It's a testament to actors likeWinsletand Davis that they can navigate the wild tonal shifts and find some sharp,poignant moments within it - and watching them act horny with lust over the 25-year-old Liam Hemsworth (his best,most charming performance to date) in his under-shorts is a deliciously wicked delight.Winslet,especially,hasn't felt this refreshingly unbound in ages,helped by her voice work that plays with Myrtle's put on plum British accent that occasionally slides into her natural Australian one (once again spot on as previously heard in Jane Campion'sHoly Smoke!)Meanwhile those in smaller roles like Sarah Snook (soon to be introduced to the wide world inSteve Jobs),ShaneJacobson,RebeccaGibney,Julia Blake,Alison Whyte,and Mark Leonard Winter have moments to shine amid the chaos whether its just a simple line-reading or a look on their face.

Naturally,the costumes by designer Marion Boyce andMargotWilson are wonderful and play expertly with both character and narrative whileampingup the film's tone as a delightfully entertaining trifle for the eyes.Likewise,the production designers have clearly had a ball reinventing the small town of an American western as a mid-century Australian outpost,the highlight of which is Molly'sGrey Gardensinspired abode.The Dressmakeris indeed a western,but with guns and spurs replaced by hand0beaded stitch work,wide-brimmed hats and pleatedsundresses.It doesn't make a lick of sense at times – isWinsletmeant to be the same age of Hemsworth and Snook?Where are these women finding the money to buy such fetching fashions?And the tonal shifts between drama and comedy are fast enough to give you whiplash – but I don't think that's really the point.It's a comedy of disgraceful manners.Whether it tickles your funny bone is likely going to be entirely dependent on how warped your sense of humor is and how easily you can ignore some of its more unsavory elements.

Grade:B
Oscar Chances:It's out at the end of October in Australia,but with no solid US date it's hard to say whether it will factor in.Either way the costumes are the only place this film will find itself on Oscar's radar and could very well be Oscar nominated if somebody has the guts to go for it.Lord knows that branch isn't shy of tiny films,especially so givenit works in the same fashion-conscious realm of design asThe Devil WearsPradaandCoco avantChanel,but with the added bonus on being outrageous.

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Reader Comments (8)

Even if it doesn't get nominated,designing the above look for Liam Hemsworth is its own reward.

September 16,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

"cinematic equivalent of Betsy Johnson designing an haute couture line for Dior".

I want to see this now!

September 16,2015 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

I would love to see a post on this years contenders for costume design;underdogs,frontrunners,honorable mentions,frustrations with the Branch,etc.

September 16,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoel V.

I already feel like I'm gonna hate this film but I hope at least Winslet and Davis (and Snook) will be fun to watch.

And I did hear from someone else as well that Hemsworth is shockingly okay in it too,but my brain can't quite process that yet

September 16,2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

It's hard to focus with that pic of Liam up there,but thanks to this review,I've got to see this.Glenn,do you think Judy has any shot at a nom?

September 16,2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Loving every zany detail about this.When that trailer gave me a "Hush,hush Sweet Charlotte"vibe I was worried I was imagining things,but this sounds fun as hell.

September 16,2015 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

Just imagine seeing Hemsworth in his shorts (no pants discreetly covering them!) on the big screen.

September 16,2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Why doesn't this great review appear on Rotten Tomatoes?

September 20,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJuan

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