The Dressmaker

by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday September 23, 2016

Kate Winslet stars in 'The Dressmaker'
Kate Winslet stars in 'The Dressmaker'  

Kate Winslet walks into frame, lights a cigarette, takes a drag and delivers one of the best opening lines in a film this year: "I'm back, you bastards."

She's speaking to the fictional Australian town of Dungatar (even the name sounds dirty), a small gathering of dingy dwellings in the outback occupied by more than a fair share of characters either eccentric, vile or a combination of the two.

Winslet plays Myrtle "Tilly" Dunnage, who returns to this sewer of a town to care for her ailing mother (Judy Davis), yet also seek revenge on an entire community that exiled her as a child due to an incident involving the death of a schoolmate. Everyone calls her a murderess, yet Tilly remembers nothing of the particular event. Gossip and whispers run on the lips of every Dungatarian, and Tilly's there to shut them up.

What proceeds is "The Dressmaker" -- a wickedly funny yarn that balances humor both dark and delightful, while tossing in equal elements of mystery, murder, romance and melodrama. The movie's tone may prove jarring for many, considering there's just so much of it, but these tonal shifts are just magnificent for those who choose to ride the waves. The film can move from Hawks-ian screwball to Sirk-ian melodrama in the blink of an eye, and handles it all with impressive fluidity.

What makes the film so damn fun is that you never know where it is heading. In one instant, Hugo Weaving (in a wonderful supporting performance) is modeling a flamboyant dress. Moments later, we're given a haunting flashback. Then, a pot brownie gag, followed by an unexpectedly touching moment. The movie has a full deck of cards at its disposal and knows exactly when to play each one.

Kate Winslet is fantastic, as always, while Judy Davis is a revelation as her cuckoo mom. The two actresses play off one another marvelously, while love interest Liam Hemsworth holds his own against an actress of Winslet's caliber. The town of Dungatar is filled with a baker's dozen of half-baked looney toons, all embodied through deliciously offbeat performances.

The costumes are arguably the film's greatest star. Costume design team Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson truly deliver in crafting Tilly's illustrious creations, which the character uses to coax the townsfolk into her twisted plan of attack.

Ultimately, the film is a Saturday morning screwball meets Western meets melodramatic soap opera meets whatever else you decide to take from it. It's an eclectic smorgasbord, a delicious concoction that blends genres into something fresh-feeling and fun. I had a blast.