The Dressmaker recounts the story of Tilly Dunnage, a glamorous designer who returns to her rural Australian roots to seek answers, redemption and, ultimately, revenge for the apparent wrongdoings in her ambiguous past. The proceeding narrative spends its two hour runtime jumping between tones and genres with playful, even reckless abandon, regularly coming close but never quite managing to lose its thread. Indeed, it is a veritable hurricane of a plot and one which threatens to swallow all the various arms of the story around it and spit them out into a confused, discordant mess. Writer/director Jocelyn Moorhouse nonetheless handles her flammable material with remarkable ease and builds the film to an emotionally driven, multifaceted crescendo which is equal parts hilarious, heart-wrenching and exquisitely satisfying.
All involved turn in capable performances: Kate Winslet impresses as Tilly; Hugo Weaving, a particular highlight as Sergeant Farrat, acts with a playful confidence which is a joy to watch, and Judy Davis steals the show with a nuanced and always developing performance as Molly Dunnage. The characters on the whole are wonderfully drawn: interesting and unconventional without ever being blazingly quirky, a common problem with a narrative of this sort. Admittedly, at points the relationship between Tilly and Teddy- played by an on-form Liam Hemsworth- comes across as forced and the conclusion of their story seems rushed, but in the midst of the wider narrative this is barely noticeable and can be forgiven.
Overall, the film offers an altogether thoughtful and good natured exploration of identity, redemption and small town jealousy which is in turn hilarious and harrowing. It is by no means perfect but there is something here which is utterly endearing to watch and makes for a fun and compelling viewing experience. Moorhouse paints a genuinely funny, unique and arresting story which, even in its darker moments, will have you smiling until the end. It may have some tonal issues informed by the disjointed pace of the narrative as well as some minor issues with characterisation but it is the film’s imperfections which gives this tragically ludicrous gem its unmistakable charm.
Image: GabboT; Flickr.com