Review: The Dressmaker (2015)

The Dressmaker (2016) The Dressmaker (2016)

Less a straight adaptation of the book, more a tribute to Australian cinema from last century in The Dressmaker‘s clothes.

Is it just me, or is this 15-20 years too late?

At times, The Dressmaker kinda feels like Muriel’s Wedding, or even The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (this film even features Hugo Weaving in drag). The novel upon which this film is based was published at the end of the decade in which those films were released. The cast is a who’s-who of that era reduced to delivering caricatured, even painfully cartoonish performances (even Kate Winslett was playing Australians in outback Australia back then, in Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke and I think something else which I can’t remember right now).

Here’s the thing: Australian cinema has moved from those larrikin years, producing films exploring a broader range of themes, tones and genres to increasingly international acclaim (most notably Rabbit Proof Fence and Animal Kingdom), and launching several Hollywood careers in the process (Judy Davis, who plays Kate Winslett’s doddering old mum here, was one of the expatriate trailblazers of the Australia-to-Hollywood move), does this kind of clash-of-antiquated-White-Australian-cultures dark comedy sit comfortably in the current landscape?

Tonally, The Dressmaker is all over the place, not so much oscillating as jerking between the melodrama of Tilly / Molly / Handsome Hemsworth II and the Strictly Ballroom-esque slapstick of its supporting players. It feels less like a straight adaptation of the novel (which, full disclosure, I had to study at uni, which may have in turn coloured my opinion of this film), and more a tribute to Australian cinema from last century using The Dressmaker as its pretense.

Compare and contrast for yourself:

A scene from Muriel’s Wedding:

A scene from The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert:

A scene from Strictly Ballroom: