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“The Dressmaker”–Quirky Down-Under Drama

Based upon Rosalie Ham’s novel by the same name, The Dressmaker  (2015) gives us an opening scene in which  10-year-old Tilly Dunnage is being bullied by classmate Stewart Pettyman, the mayor’s son,  and a group of boys in Dungatar, a town in the  Australian outback. With little investigation she is sent away by police Sergeant Farrat (Hugo Weaving) for the boy’s murder.

Twenty-five years later (1951) Tilly (Kate Winslet) returns to Dungatar after a highly successful career as a couturier working in Paris.  Presumably returning to care for her mentally unstable mother Molly (Judy Davis), Tilly is mistreated by her mother and all the townspeople who have animus towards her for the alleged murder of Stewart Pettyman.  Her mother does not remember the past nor her daughter’s ordeal as a child, but clarity of mind soon prevails and Molly begins to realize her recall bias and the faulty, convenient memories of the townspeople of Dungatar.  Only a few townspeople, including Teddy (Liam Hemsworth) and Gertrude (the surprising Sarah Snook who plays “Shiv” in the HBO series Succession), are willing to accept Tilly as she is, not her rumored past. Tilly is immediately too generous in spirit and too sophisticated, not to mention too glamorous, for Dungatar. But, she’s also unwilling to forgive and forget.

The characters are a wonderful, unexpected and thoroughly captivating array of narrative weirdness which will hold viewers’ attention.   The goofball, comedic scenes–a crossdresser, for example– may or may not be a comfortable fit for some viewers.  And humor is mixed with the cusp of a thriller, Dexter-style, in a surprising plot twist.  In some ways The Dressmaker reminded this reviewer of the classic “The Visit” (1964) or the more recent “Dogville” (2003).

The actors embrace the mayhem, with the remarkable, always noteworthy and energetic Kate Winslet and Judy Davis in the lead roles.  As the events of The Dressmaker unspool, it is frequently unpredictable:  where will the narrative take us next?  And then it goes further than one would think:  into the absurd…in a good way.  The unexpected journey is one worth taking.  The ensemble of misfits is highly original and quirky, making The Dressmaker an enjoyable and cheeky indie film. 

Availability:  Netflix DVD and Amazon Prime

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