The Dressmaker is a mess of a film. It wildly dives from comedy to melodrama back to comedy (but this time with a darker tinge) and perches all of that on top of a classic Western revenge story. Yes, it as mental as that sounds. So why the hell do I love it?
When Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage returns to the small Australian town of Dungater she is looking for answers. Having been chased out of town at the age of ten under accusations of a murder, she wants to know exactly what happened and at the same time help out her mother ‘Mad’ Molly, who at least claims to not remember her. Armed with only a sewing machine, she looks to change the opinions of this backwater town through the medium of fashion.
At the heart of the story is the relationship between Kate Winslet’s Tilly and Judy Davis’ Molly. There is a lot of fun to be had in their bickering and Davis seems to be having the time of her life playing the cantankerous old hag. What pins it together is there is some real heart to the relationship that shines through all the pot shots. They want to impress each other, even if they can’t show it.
The other core relationship is a romance between Tilly and Liam Hemsworth’s Teddy and that may be the film’s biggest misstep. Try as he might Hemsworth is yet to show the charisma of his brother and this is another film in which he manages to be incredibly boring every time he is on-screen. In a film as insane as this one that is almost impressive, although not quite as impressive as how good he looks with his top off.
That can all be forgiven when Tilly begins her battle with the town people. This strange assortment of folk includes lecherous mayor Evan Pettyman, (Shane Bourne) who keeps his wife heavily sedated in order to have affairs and blossoming rose Gertrude, (Sarah Snook) whom with the help of Tilly’s dresses goes from shy to Queen Bitch seemingly overnight. They are a horrible group who seem determined to drag everyone else into their squalor and watching Winslet take them down is a lot of fun.
Which answers my question. I like this film because it is fun. It has embraced its utter nutjobbery and it runs with it all the way to the hills and back. It veers from Hugo Weaving’s Sergeant Horatio Farrat mincing around and getting all excited about the fabrics Winslet’s character brings him to town members being routinely dispatched. It falls apart at the slightest picking of its stitches, but it never once slows down long enough for you to do that.
The Dressmaker is a mess, there is no denying that, but I really don’t care. For the two hours it is on, it provides schlocky ridiculous fun that will have you laughing away. It would almost be so bad it was good if you didn’t get the impression that they all knew exactly what they were doing. Great cinema this is not, entertaining cinema it most definitely is.