Have you ever left a theater thinking, “I am so glad I spent my time and money to go see that film?” If you haven’t, then this is the one that will make you utter those glorious words. Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, and Liam Hemsworth star in this Australian tragedy/comedy stylized revenge film written and directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and based on the novel by Rosalie Ham. It’s an over-the-top humorous look at Tilly (Winslet), her quest for knowledge and revenge while she attempts to reconnect with her reclusive and very feisty mother, “Mad Molly” (Davis).
Set in 1951 in the outback of Australia, Tilly returns to this one-horse town comprised of just a few wooden structures. It’s reminiscent of the “Little House on the Prairie” or the Wild West. Tilly is a sharp contrast to her surroundings as she is gorgeously outfitted in her own designer clothing, armed only with a suitcase and a sewing machine to combat the town’s curmudgeons and busybodies. And armed she must be as she is there to gain information about her repressed and apparent ghastly past. As she marches up the steps to her mother’s rat-infested, dilapidated house on the hill, Tilly and Molly have a less than favorable mother-daughter reunion. Soon the entire gossipy, caddy little town knows that “the murderess” is back, but Tilly fights back by transforming the local women into exquisite creations using haute couture. It’s a wild ride filled with humor, love, compassion, and deep, dark secrets. In other words, it’s a perfect combination!
This Aussie production reminds me of the recently released “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” as it creates a preposterously wonderful situation and runs with it. Tilly is a classic beauty with intelligence and heart, but she needs to find the truth behind a tragic incident that occurred when she was a child. As she begins to interact with the townspeople, all in need of a little Dior-esque magic, the town transforms. With exaggerated roles, the story is rich and stunning, emotionally as well as visually.
“The Dressmaker” has the classic elements of an epic tale: The mysterious woman, the evil doers, some slap-stick physical humor, a few plot twists, and the deception, all in almost cartoon-like structure. Oh! And there’s a love story, full of dreamy romance that will make you feel like you’re being swept off your feet too! It’s such a rich and stunning story, both emotionally and visually.
The cast is brilliant. Who better to portray the designer wanna-be Sergeant Farrat than Hugo Weaving? He’s an odd duck who just doesn’t fit in…he’s perfect. Then we have Alison Whyte creating the timidly nervous Marigold Pettyman who succumbs to the elixir her husband pours her each night. She brings heart and compassion to the story in sublime balance. And let us not forget the strikingly gorgeous Teddy McSwiney (Hemsworth) who Tilly yearns for, is a sheer pleasure to see on the screen.
Winslet was born to play this role with her classic beauty and innate sense of confidence. Her character, hard-nosed with a protective armor, softens beautifully and we truly grow to love this woman. At the heart of the story is her relationship with her mother played by Davis who is simply spectacular. Initially thought to be senile, she conveys a wisdom with a playful sense of humor perfectly. Davis is a master at delivering comedic lines as well as making us laugh with her physical comedy. With both women, make up or a lack thereof (and a blacked out tooth) allows them to portray their characters with deft skill. Hemsworth’s character would make any woman swoon as the film captures his exquisite physical beauty, but he also conveys a deeply thoughtful and understanding man. He’s quite the dream. Every character, no matter the role, is wonderfully over-the-top fun, allowing us to love, hate, or pity them.
The writing, acting, and directing all fit together with absolute precision. It’s a film that you can escape into, laugh aloud, shed a few tears, and cheer for the heroine. But at the heart of “The Dressmaker” is the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter. When you combine love, truth, and revenge, you get a remarkably entertaining film. It’ll make you feel like a kid again as you truly experience the film. Who would have thought that haute couture could be so powerful?
4 Stars/10 Reels