The lights came up, the credits began to roll, and my husband turned to me and said, “I’d watch that again. Right now.” Which made us both laugh out loud. But we were used to that by then.
Watching the final hour of The Dressmaker was a well-matched emotional tug-of-war, with regular intervals alternating between genuine, joyful, laughing and horrified, suspenseful, gasping aloud. Very rarely have I made so much noise watching a film. At one point I was helpless to stop myself from covering my mouth in dread anticipation of what the lovesick Teddy would do to prove Tilly wasn’t cursed. Semi-Spoiler: She really, really was.
Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, and starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, and Liam Hemsworth, this film has everything going for it. For starters, it is extreme in every way, starting with extremely beautiful cinematography, costume, and art direction.
At the other extreme, it is full of gory deaths, blunt scenes of vicious child abuse, and ultimate revenge.
Everything I know about Australian Cinema I learned from the likes of Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Muriel’s Wedding (1994). Did I mention extreme? Pretty much synonymous with “Australian.” This film is the rougher, tougher, just-got-out-of-jail big sister to those films. An accurate representation of how the world has changed in the intervening 22 years.
This “big sister” is leaving incarceration fully jaded about the horrors of life and a woman’s need to do what needs to be done. Kate Winslet’s Tilly is the focal point of the movie, and it’s super hero. Her wise, resilient, ass-kicking, and utterly feminine character is reviled by all, and yet never flinches, nor asks permission for anything.
This film pulls no punches and yet manages as many laughs as breathless despair. It does this by presenting an entire spectrum of small town life, and in particular, bizarre yet compelling love stories. The romance between our plucky heroine and the man who hopes to be her hero exists, yes, but it pales in comparison with the friendship between the town madwoman and her best friend, and the small town sheriff and his feather boa.
It was a delight to see Hugo Weaving in a role NOT Elrond nor Agent Smith. His Seargent Farrat was the film’s endearing and rational balance to the rampant corruption and insanity of the other inhabitants.
Sometimes when “the big mystery” is solved well before the end of the second act it can mean bad writing or terrible editing, resulting in a let down. Not this film. The final act is so well written, acted, and directed that the more time you spend thinking about it, the more subtle and delicious the story and the characters appear. Every aspect; the plot twists, the surprises (good and bad), the costumes, the rivalries inside and outside the town…they are deeper and richer with focused study.