We’re not going to say “The Dressmaker” will leave you in stitches because, while the film contains many comical scenes, the main plot is drop-dead serious. What we will say is the movie has likely sewn up an Oscar nomination for best costume design.
OK, no more fashioning of puns. Still, you can’t talk about “The Dressmaker” without talking about the eye-popping haute couture that the film’s costume designers Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson have created for the film.
Making their garments stand out even more is that there are worn by women living in a gritty, grimy backwater town in rural Australia in 1951. Imagine if Coco Chanel had designed the duds for the women in “Mad Max.” Bottom line, “The Dressmaker” will serve as a super-sized bag of eye candy for fashionistas.
It also serves as a star vehicle for Kate Winslet. She plays Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage, who returns to her hometown of Dungatar with a few scores to settle. She was banished from the town years ago, accused of killing a boy. Traumatized by the event as a young girl, she wants to find out if she really is the killer. She also wants to reconnect with her mother, Mad Molly (Judy Davis).
You know you’re in for a quirky time when Tilly’s first order of business upon arriving in town is driving golf balls in the direction of people whom she believes have wronged her. Not surprisingly, her return is not greeted warmly by the citizenry and when she shows up at a rugby game wearing a dress that would stop rush-hour traffic — she only raises their level of scorn.
How much you enjoy “The Dressmaker” will probably depend on how much quirk you can tolerate. For example, the town’s citizens include a hunchback chemist, a cross-dressing policeman and an agoraphobic housewife. The film nearly ODs on idiosyncrasy. Did we mention the hashish brownies?
The town also has enough skeletons in its closet to fill a cemetery.
A few women start to warm up to Tilly, however, when she starts creating beautiful clothes for them. You see, she learned to be a dressmaker in Paris during her years in exile. Now, you may wonder why she decides to help out these unsavory characters. I’ll never tell.
One of the farmers in town, Teddy (the ridiculously hunky Liam Hemsworth), also takes a shine to Tilly. How they knew each other in childhood stretches credulity to the breaking point since in real life Winslet is 15 years older than Hemsworth.
The film plays footloose with its tone, too, as its genre hops from screwball comedy to murder mystery to romance to drama. One moment you’re amused and the next you’re repulsed. Let’s just say that all bets for froth are off when someone gets raped.
Despite these drawbacks, “The Dressmaker” has its charms, principal among them are Davis, who chews up every scene she’s in, and Hugo Weaving, as the officer with a fondness for frills. Winslet is solid as always, here playing the avenger with a damaged soul.
Director Jocelyn Moorhouse, making her first film in nearly 20 years, might be accused of piling on the denouements as she goes into extra innings to settle Tilly’s score, but revenge can be served with seconds.
Based on a novel by Rosalie Ham with the screenplay written by Moorhouse and her husband P.J. Hogan, “The Dressmaker” has a few common threads — sorry — with another tale of revenge, though with a decidedly less female-friendly approach. Check out “High Plains Drifter” starring Clint Eastwood, who also arrives in a town of ne’er-do-wells with an agenda. He just doesn’t bring along a sewing machine.
“The Dressmaker” is 118 minutes long and rated “R for language and violence.
It is directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and written by Moorhouse and P.J. Hogan. It stars Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth and Hugo Weaving.