ARRIVING again on screen after appearing in last week’s release Steve Jobs, Kate Winslet takes the lead in The Dressmaker, a hybridity of dark comedy, period melodrama and thriller that fails to qualify for pure entertainment in spite of its diversity.
Years after being forced to leave the Australian town of Dungatar after supposedly committing a murder of a young boy as a child, Myrtle Dunnage (Winslet) returns much to the dismay of many locals.
Mixing looking after her temperamental mother Molly (Judy Davis) and conversing with camp sergeant Farrat (Hugo Weaving), she brings her talents of dressmaking to the divided town, significantly transforming one girl physically and mentally.
With her knack for bringing a fashionable sense to the somewhat humdrum town, such behaviour leads to town charmer Teddy (Liam Hemsworth) catching her eye. It becomes clear though that Myrtle is mainly there to unveil the truth of what happened in her childhood, with flashbacks detailing how she was targeted by bullies, specifically the boy she allegedly killed.
With her presence dominating town life, a series of events, both good and bad, unfold as relationships form, secret relations are deciphered, tragedies unfold and reputations are left ruined.
It is the hybridity of genre that is arguably the focus point this film brings. It is a brave attempt at mixing varying aspects of fashion-themed conversation with explanation of the death of a child but the problem is that there are more uninteresting areas than those that are the opposite.
As a comedy, it is over the top at times, most notably in the case of the overtly feminine sergeant Farrat whose fetish for dresses are only discussed with Myrtle, but it doesn’t entertain. Emphasis on the play on comedy will say that it is designed to humour but it never makes one laugh and what seems like an interesting idea ends up as a distraction from the matter at heart.
Even when Judy Davis’s character comes out with a sarcastic quote regarding a murderer and a lesbian being in the same room, such quotes hardly raise even as much as a smile, let alone a roar of laughter.
As a drama, the film is much better, but there is a range of inconsistency that comes across as stating the obvious at times. The ways in which Myrtle’s presence appears to have a dramatic effect on the townsfolk is welcoming, specifically when she confronts a teacher who made life difficult for her back in school.
The ideology of having the happiness and feelgood factor of a wedding replaced with characters venting fury and frustration over the presence of Myrtle does highlight at times the drama working in the right place at the right time.
It is also a good idea for sake of character arc when one looks at scenes where Myrtle’s talents turn out to have some form of positivity in regards to certain townsfolk. This is best demonstrated when looking at the compare and contrast elements of the girl whose physical appearance of shyness and wearing glasses is replaced with the glamour and confidence we see when she later marries.
The storyline regarding Myrtle’s demands to work out what tarnished her reputation slightly interests but there is a sense that when the truth is revealed, it doesn’t really have the surprise factor.
Winslet as ever is impressive to watch. There is a notion of versatility as shown in two sequences she goes from feeding someone in an invalid state to a sequence where devastation and depression renders her as the one in need of assistance. It is not an Oscar-worthy performance but does serve as a reminder that whenever the film is not working, a Winslet’s acting alone can be a driving force for saving the film from total disaster, Labor Day springing to mind.
It is an admirable attempt at trying to be a bit of everything but The Dressmaker’s biggest flaw comes from one aspect being way less interesting than another. Winslet helps but the film only really works as a drama, which when displayed, is not entirely engaging nor intriguing enough to boost.