Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage (Kate Winslet) walks down her dusty hometown—Dungatar’s main strip—as if it were a catwalk in Milan. Dressed head to toe in lavish 50s designer outfits, she is a binary opposition to her rural surroundings and even more so, her female counterparts. Myrtle has returned from Paris to her native home in Australia in a quest of revenge towards those who had expelled her for seemingly unknown reasons. Accused of murdering a fellow school pupil at an early age, Tilly is armed and dangerous—with the power of fashion to ridicule sweetened grievances upon those who stripped her away from her mother.
One could mistake its beginning as a spaghetti western rather than a black comedy. Equipped with needles, a sewing machine and mannequin corsets, Winslet’s Tilly Dunnage is our Clint Eastwood and lone rider. The actress’ effortless ability to captivate an authentic Australian accent accentuates her position as still one of the best female actresses in the business—even after all these years. Accompanied by Hugo Weaving, Liam Hemsworth and Judy Davis, a true championing of indigenous talent is fundamental to Jocelyn Moorhouse’s film.
The comedic values of The Dressmaker are down to those of Aussie Rebel Wilson. Judy Davis and other supporting roles are loud, boisterous and over the top. Thankfully, Wilson’s ruckus of homosexual and weight-orientated jokes is not so prevalent as they are in her performances in the Pitch Perfect franchise. Aligned to an exploration of darkened humour, and an ability to surpass Mark Kermode’s infamous six-laugh test is achieved within the first half hour—the latter cannot be said in regards to modern comedies like Vacation. The basis of this film’s humour is rotated around a transvestic police officer, an alcoholic mother and other small town caricatures—as well as Winslet’s Dunnage. This embroidery of characters tailors itself into a fine weaving of well-known archetypes and plays upon pre-existing tropes of cinema’s portrayal of small towns.
Although Moorhouse’s latest release is sporadic in tone—shifting from comedy, to romance, to tragedy—a fundamental narrative is withheld. A slight weakness derives from its constant movement from one genre to another—in particular, its melancholia. Undeniably, this hybrid element is to be rejoiced and praised, but does have its problematic consequences. One or two generic plot devices are installed too, the father of Tilly being one in particular—the identity of whom can be seen a million miles off, just like any car travelling towards the Australian outback.
The Dressmaker’s adaptation from literature is evident in Tilly’s lavish fashion sense, though Moorhouse’s script and direction conceal this factor for the most part. However, one can identify its origins through the assortment of its variation in thematic values. Winslet is in impeccable form, as continued from Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs—but its design towards the big screen doesn’t quite cut to shape.