Dress for Revenge (Film Review: “The Dressmaker”)

A young woman returns to her dirt poor roots in the dusty Australian outback, a place where no amount of pretty frocks can disguise the ugliness beating in the hearts of its neighbors.


SnapShot Plot

In The Dressmaker, the costume designs take center stage in this homecoming story about Tilly Dunnage (beautifully acted by Kate Winslet) a talented dress designer whose childhood was interrupted by a senseless tragedy for which she was wrongly condemned and banished from the community. She returns home, a full-fledged femme fatale, to see about her aging mother, whose alarming mental decline is only matched by the deplorable conditions in which she lives. Judy Davis is at her bristling best in the part of Mad Molly Dunnage, a tough ‘broad’ who may not remember her own daughter but will never forget how the townsfolk treated her like a pariah, even before the scandal. As Tilly tries to reconstruct the missing links in her own memory about the crime to which she’s been branded and ‘cursed’, she soon makes herself indispensable to the women in the community, for whom her uncanny dressmaking abilities border on alchemy, transforming them into showpieces of glamour and femininity.

Surrounded by a quirky cast of characters, including a cross-dressing police sergeant (Hugo Weaving) and other assorted oddballs (as only Australian cinema can deliver), Tilly’s world gets even more complicated by the amorous attentions of hunky neighbor Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth), who refuses to believe she ever did the unspeakable act for which she’s feared by the locals.



Parting Shot

For the record, The Dressmaker is precisely the kind of film I might have dismissed if not for the strength of its performances and the sheer cinematic loveliness of the thing itself. Here’s why. This is an example of a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. Is it a black comedy? A romance? A feminist revenge fantasy? A drama tinged with tragedy? Or all of the above? It seems that Writer/Director Jocelyn Moorhouse opted for the latter and the film suffers for this ‘kitchen sink’ approach. But still, Winslet and Davis manage to keep us engaged and invested in their story, even when it borders on slapstick shtick or maudlin sentimentality.

The Dressmaker reminded me of another mother-daughter revenge drama, Dolores Claiborne (co-starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kathy Bates) which also centered on an age-old crime, the antipathy of an entire community and the redemptive yet painful homecoming of a daughter. And despite the problem in tone, The Dressmaker still manages to deliver on that same moral promise in the end.

The Dressmaker is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMEu-1CIB_I

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