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Title: The Dressmaker

Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :2stars:

HTS Overall Score:74

It’s been YEARS since I’ve seen the name Jocelyn Moorehouse thrown around. She was a flash in the pan director back in the 90s with a handful of films to her name before she vanished off the face of the earth. She did one of my all-time favorite films, “Proof”, with Russell Crowe and Hugo weaving back in 91, then followed it up with “How to Make an American Quilt” and “A Thousand Acres” a few years later. Then poof, she just vanished. It wasn’t until I saw that she was attached to “The Dressmaker” that I started digging around and realized that she quit a film making career when she became pregnant and decided to leave working to raise a family. Now, 18 years later she’s back with her first directorial position since the late 90s and she brings with it a sense of style and kookiness that is delightfully refreshing. “The Dressmaker” is adapted from the book of the same name by Rosalie Ham, and actually penned by Jocelyn’s own husband, P.J. Hogan for her to play with. It’s a strange film, but one that’s delightfully humorous, morbidly chuckle worthy at times, and overly melodramatic at the same time.

We start off with a sultry bang. Kate Winslet enters the film by standing a slinky red dress like an 80s femme fatale, complete with a softly whispered “I’m back”. It seems that Kate is one Tilly Dunnage, and Tilly has come back to the fictional Australian town of Dungatar. The same town that drove her away as a child for supposedly murdering another boy. Purring like a kitten and sexier than….well…Kate Winslet, Tilly meanders back to her old homes and sets up shop once more. Her mother Mad Molly (played by a scene stealing Judy Davis) has sort of lost her marbles, but Tilly is there for a multitude of purposes. One of which she needs her mother coherent for. Soon the whole town is a buzz with the return of the young “killer” and that’s exactly what Tilly wants. The talk soon rises to furor when Tilly reveals that she was a French trained seamstress and has a magical way with a sewing machine, turning young frumpy girls into voluptuous queens that dazzle as they walk.

Amidst this little game that Tilly is obviously playing comes some more real moments. The old police officer that investigated the murder of the child that Tilly supposedly killed (one Sergeant Farrat, played by a hilariously charming Hugo Weaving) soon becomes the fast confidant and incredibly funny plot diversion, as well as fulcrum for certain developments that I will keep under wraps. Not to mention the hunky Liam Hemsworth as the young Teddy McSwiney, a social outcast who cleans up outhouses and mucks stalls for a living and pursues the femme fatale without any fear for his own life.

Jocelyn Moorehouse has a knack with the insane. The first 45-50 minutes of the film are an absolute blast as Moorehouse weaves tales of kookiness that had me wildly entertained from the moment Kate Winslet stepped off the train and whispered “I’m Back”. There is NEVER a shortage of engaging characters and, in fact, that is the biggest asset the film has. The movie plays out like a morality play mixed with fairy tale, and the all too obvious (intentionally) ending is made all the sweeter by the insanity that unfurls in Tilly’s wake. However, this insanity and creativity is also the film’s downfall. By the second act the overstuffing of creativity and wild lunacy just becomes too much. Like a fat kid stuffing his face with Twinkies and candy there’s only so much you can cram in there before it starts coming out the early and spilling over. Which is exactly what happens. Moorehouse soon has so much creativity and incredibly well detailed characters in there that things start falling to the wayside.

The most engaging aspect of “The Dressmaker” comes in the form of the characters. Every character and set piece is lavishly done, and it almost feels like the visuals AND the character development is playing dress up. Hugo Weaving plays a charming police officer who has a penchant for cross dressing and wearing pretty baubles (the scene where he’s inspecting Tilly’s package is absolutely hilarious) and Kate Winslet herself is magical as the tortured seamstress with a checkered past. However, Judy Davis is the one that will take your breath away. Once she regains her wits part way through the film she becomes the absolute star. You can’t take your eyes off of her whenever she’s on screen. Watch her when Liam Hemsworth takes her and her daughter out to see “Sunset Boulevard” where Gloria Swanson is trying to schmooze William Holden’s character. The repulsion and over the top reaction to her advances was enough to have me in stitches (and rightfully so if you’ve ever seen “Sunset Boulevard”).

While the heroes are certainly well done, the villains are just as cleverly crafted. We have the twisted pharmacist who likes calling people sluts and sinful, the perverted and lecherous man of high standing in the town (who everyone knows is a lech), the backstabbing biddies, malicious house wives and a lying school teacher. Each of whom gets a lovely comeuppance by the end of the film. The fantasy and craziness with their portrayals are easily the best when the melodrama is low and the comedy is high. However, Moorehouse starts to go downhill a bit when the comedy gets really black (needlessly so at times. There’s a sucker punch about ¾ of the way through that makes no sense and really is quite shocking for some reason), but when it delves into melodrama that fun comes to a screeching halt. Luckily there’s more good than bad in “The Dressmaker”, but the unevenness caused by the inclusion of the dark humor and melodrama keeps it from being as entertaining as it SHOULD be.


Rated R for brief language and a scene of violence

Video :4stars:

Broad Green Pictures brings “The Dressmaker” to Blu-ray with a very pleasing looking 2.39:1 AVC encoded disc that seems to have been struck from a digital 2K DI from the Red Epic cameras (which is still frustrating to see 2K DI’s being struck when the cameras are a 5K source. It seems like it would behoove studios to strike 4K masters in preparation for 4K streaming or disc based media even if the disc they’re putting out isn’t 4K). The dusty Australian town looks quite nice, with dusky earth browns and splashes of color amongst the locals. Lots of pastels and soft tones are used for the opening bits, but when Tilly gets going with her sewing machine brighter colors bleed through in the extravagant dresses uses. Black levels are solid enough and fine detail is quite crisp and clear. There’s a bit of softness to the overall image, but nothing that really robs the picture of much fine detail. A teensy bit of crush seeps into the dark cabin that Mad Molly and Tilly reside in, but again, nothing too overt.

Audio :4stars:

The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is equally pleasing, with a slightly front heavy dramatic mix that opens up at times to create a solidly immersive experience. The dialog is the main focus of the track and is well replicated in the front sound stage. I was actually surprised that many of the native Australians didn’t have an overly aggressive accent like I’ve heard in many an Aussie film before. Everything is perfectly understandable without having to staring to hear through the accents. There is some nice imaging in the hut with Moly and Tilly bashing around and the score allows for some distinct use of the surround channels (along with the standard ambient noises here and there). It’s not a wildly aggressive mix in the LFE department, nor is it an action oriented mix, but everything asked is done with ease and enthusiasm.

Extras: :2stars:

• Photo Gallery
• "The Story" - Featurette
• "Designing The Dressmaker" - Fetaurette

Overall: :3.5stars:

It's heartening to see Kate Winslet and Jocelyn Moorehouse come back into the spotlight once more. Winslet has had a rocky time of it as a leading lady since “The Reader”, and Jocelyn has spent the last 18 years taking care of a family rather than pursuing film exploits. Both take to the genre like a fish to water and while “The Dressmaker” has some wildly uneven moments, it is DEFINITELY not an unentertaining film. I will say this, whether you like or dislike “The Dressmaker” is almost irrelevant. I say this without reservation and that is you will not see another film like “The Dressmaker” again. It is that unique and the craziness is wildly infectious at times. Broad Green Picture has been impressing me with the limited run titles that they are releasing and I have to recommend you at least give it a watch to see for yourself.

Additional Information:

Starring: Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving
Directed by: Jocelyn Moorhouse
Written by: Rosalie Ham (Novel), PJ. Hogan
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish DTS 5.1
Studio: Broad Green Pictures
Rated: R
Runtime: 119 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: December 27th, 2016

Buy The Dressmaker on Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Worth Watching

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