• by Wes Singleton

The Dressmaker, B-

Rated R, 118 minutes

The wild and well-acted revenge dramedy "The Dressmaker" is as unpredictable as a plunging neck line or high slit dress. Based on the 2000 novel by Rosalie Ham, the 2015 acclaimed film is just now finding its way to the states; it's an uneven mix of comedy and drama, but it's grounded by the smashing turn from Oscar-winner Kate Winslet in the titular role, a femme fatale with a troubled past. In 1950s Australia, beautiful, talented dressmaker Tilly (Winslet) returns to her tiny Australian hometown of Dungatar to right wrongs from her past. As she tries to reconcile with her mother (Judy Davis, also fantastic), she starts to fall in love while transforming the fashion of the town. Directed by Australian director Jocelyn Moorehouse ("How to Make an American Quilt") and co-written by Moorehouse and her filmmaker husband P.J. Hogan of "My Best Friend's Wedding" fame, "The Dressmaker" is an engaging, lively look at revenge that could easily be a revisionist, extremely dark "Little House on the Prairie" turned on its ear. Plotwise, the story follows Ham's book closely, but "The Dressmaker" has some tonal issues, going back and from comedy to dark drama quickly, and it's not always a smooth fit for the story; in particular, the handling of Hugo Weaving's character, the cross-dressing police sergeant, is an awkward, somewhat unintentional laugh-inducing one, and while there are some other genuine laughs, it also interrupts the narrative flow to the serious issues this small town has. In other words, "Dressmaker" works much better as a drama than a comedy, and Moorehouse and Hogan could've eased up on the comedic bits - understandably, they're added as a comical distraction to the plot's heavier elements, including murder, infidelity, bullying, tragedy, corruption and family dysfunction, but they still detract from the film. Thankfully, the superb performances and natural chemistry from Winslet and Oscar-nominee Judy Davis carry the film, and the charming Davis in particular nearly steals the movie, not to mention the lovely gowns worn by most of the actresses (and in some instances, Weaving as well) cast a nice glow to the film. There is one plot element (unchanged from the book) late in the second act that may cause some consternation - no spoilers, only that it involves Liam Hemsworth's character - but Moorehouse and Hogan should be commended for leaving it in, and not opting for the traditional happy ending. While it can be a little downbeat, and its last act hardly subtle, "The Dressmaker" is a satisfying revenge tale, with a fabulous Winslet in great form.

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