Arts & Culture · Film & Television

In ‘The Dressmaker,’ Hell Hath No Fury Like Kate Winslet and Her Sewing Machine

The second best thing (and it’s a very close second) is Judy Davis as Tilly’s mother. She delivers some of the movie’s funniest one-liners and transitions believably — from madwoman to willing accomplice to loving mum. Her early fights with Winslet are remarkable for their unexpected physicality; when Tilly finally forces Molly into a bath (overdue and much needed), Molly gives up, sinks into the scented water and luxuriates.

Liam Hemsworth plays Tilly’s love interest. He is charming and sincere, and there’s a very funny scene when he strips down so he can be fitted for a suit. His torso is so impressive — and so obviously, gratuitously on display — that it adds to what is very much a feminist film. It’s rather nice to see a man being treated as no more than a sex object for a change. And Hemsworth is so clearly in on the joke that any offense is easily forgiven. Tilly, who has already proven herself more of a sensualist than the rest of her hometown, tries in vain to resist him. Needless to say, she can’t. Needless to say, we can’t blame her. My only issue (and I set it aside quickly) is that Hemsworth, in real life 15 years Winslet’s junior, is too young to be believable as her contemporary.

A final standout in The Dressmaker’s overall wonderful cast is Hugo Weaving as the town’s police (and would-be drag queen). Weaving is no stranger to playing dress-up. He was one of the divas in The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, another Australian movie that defied categorization marvelously. And that’s precisely the situation with The Dressmaker. But whether it’s a liability or a welcome change is up to you.

The Dressmaker’s plot is over-complicated and includes a wedding, a funeral, an ambitious death count, drugs and alcohol, dueling dressmakers, and a grand finale theatrical extravaganza. The characters are all . . . well. . . characters. Backstories and subplots abound. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly where it all fits. Rom-com? Drama? Comedy? Thriller? Period piece? Here in the U.S., I think we expect our movies to be a particular genre with all of the formulaic business implied. But, The Dressmaker is Australian, and it may be that moviegoers down under are more willing to let the director take them on an unexpected journey.

The Dressmaker is a journey worth taking.

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  • Jeanie October 11, 2016 at 9:22 am

    Such an interesting review! Now, we have to see this movie.

  • Andrea October 11, 2016 at 8:17 am

    Thank you for your -always amusing and vivid- review Alexandra! Watched the trailer. It looks wonderful and always adore Kate Winslet!