The Dressmaker

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Jocelyn Moorhouse

Starring

Judy Davis Liam Hemsworth

Anticipation.

Judy Davis always make a movie worth a peek.

Enjoyment.

Nice try, but no sale on this one.

In Retrospect.

What could’ve been sleek and subtle is loud, garish and unwieldy.

This lop-sided couture western staggers on long past what shoud've been a short, sharp run time.

It’s a critical cliché to bemoan a movie’s protracted length. “It’s too darn long!” we moan, as if watching a film were akin to an after-hours shift down an un-sanctioned salt mine. And those who complain are right to be chided, as announcing that a movie is too long becomes a subjective commentary about the tolerance levels of the viewer. It also slips into that awkward terrain where the critic is stealthily offering editing advice to the filmmaker – the subtext of the statement is, “It’s too long, and here’s how I would’ve done it.” This is advice that no-one wants to hear.

Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker is too long. Sorry, but it is. It outstays its eccentric welcome and develops supplementary narrative tendrils at the very point where most viewers – discerning or otherwise – will be putting on their hat and coat, readying themselves to shuffle out the cinema to get on with the remainder of their no doubt busy day. But at that point where, for all intent and purpose, the central plotline has been wrapped up and, more-or-less, everyone has received their ample just deserts, the film carries on, and any good will engendered during that initial 90-minute stretch goes out the door in a rolling ball of fire. And we only say this because the little dotted line along which the words “cut here” have been embroidered, are so visible.

The film sets itself up as a haberdashery-based riff on John Sturges’ Bad Day at Black Rock, with Kate Winslett’s Tilly (née Mytrle) Dunnage introduced as the avenging angel in the mock designer threads. Straight off the coach, she grimaces at the sleepy Australian berg to which she has returned from years in fashion exile, sparks up a cigarette and announces to no-one, “I’m back you bastards.” Something bad went down, and from that opening scene it’s clear that we’re going to find out exactly what that was and get to watch as Tilly wreaks her vengeance on the vile townsfolk.

Except, she doesn’t really end up doing that. The story has her stopping over at the rickety shack on the hill owned by her mother Mad Molly (Judy Davis) and deciding to ply her trade, exchanging ravishing garments for information surrounding a grim day from her youth. At one point, Molly looks at Tilly stitching and barks at her daughter that her centre’s all off. “Take the pins out and start over,” she says.

The centre of The Dressmaker is also extremely “off”, with director Moorhouse offering little clue as to whether we’re supposed to be laughing, swooning, crying or baulking in terror at this lopsided couture western. While we’re in the habit of offering filmmakers unwanted advice, it would’ve been great had Davis been the main focal point of the film, as she lights up every scene she’s in, her role as the stubborn, crotchety Molly far more interesting and mysterious than Winslett’s ill-defined lead.

Published 19 Nov 2015

Anticipation.

Judy Davis always make a movie worth a peek.

Enjoyment.

Nice try, but no sale on this one.

In Retrospect.

What could’ve been sleek and subtle is loud, garish and unwieldy.

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