Liked “3 Billboards”? Check Out “The Dressmaker”

[P.J. Hogan] adapts the Rosalie Ham novel, a neo-feminist soap opera, to salute the indefatigable brotherhood and sisterhood of women and gay men who struggle to find acceptance and love. Armond White, Out, regarding The Dressmaker

As highlighted in my recent post about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and another on 2017 films, I believe this film has had particular appeal to women and other outsiders. And if you liked Three Billboards, I think you’ll also like The Dressmaker.

Barely accessible via theaters when it came out in 2016, The Dressmaker has been seen mainly by home viewers taking a stab at a relatively unknown film that happens to star a stunningly good Kate Winslet.

As Jenna Marotta (Decider) points out, The Dressmaker not only deserves our viewing but “should be a cause célèbre as the woman-directed and co-written adaptation of a woman’s novel, starring, fittingly, a woman.” In addition, P.J. Hogan, co-writer with his wife Jocelyn Moorhouse, happens to be a feminist and LGBT-friendly scribe.

Marissa Martinelli, Slate, sets up the story line, which involves Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage (Winslet) returning to her small Australian town 25 years “after being cast out as a child for allegedly killing a schoolmate, a crime she barely remembers.” What really happened back then is only gradually revealed.

While the years and a well-tailored wardrobe have transformed Tilly from duckling to swan, not much has changed in Dungatar: not the uptight, sadistic schoolteacher who served as chief witness against her (Kerry Fox); not the plain, sullen shopkeeper’s daughter who sold her down the river when they were kids (Sarah Snook); and certainly not the father of the boy she killed (Shane Bourne), a town councilor with some nasty secrets and an extremely disturbing domestic life.

“The ghastly, gossipy townsfolk are appalled and agog to see her back,” states Angie Errigo, The List

This is a lot like Hang ‘Em High, with Winslet as the Clint Eastwood character, but armed with a Singer sewing machine instead of guns. Tilly’s magical ability to transform people with creative, stylish makeovers is the weapon she uses against them as, one by one, they fall under the spell of her Dior and Balenciaga-inspired new look, even as secrets and scandal boil up. The ensemble is incredible: with Hugo Weaving as the town policeman delivering his campest turn since The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Judy Davis priceless as Tilly’s deranged mum ‘Mad Molly’, bellowing a stream of screamingly funny one-liners; Kerry Fox as the evil queen bitch of the malicious populace; and Liam Hemsworth as the one decent, manly and, happily, drop-dead gorgeous guy in town.

Watch the trailer below:

Is it really vindictiveness that drives Tilly? Martinelli: “[She] never really seems all that interested in either redemption or revenge—just answers, really.”

Armond White (Out): “A sense of emancipation courses through The Dressmaker as Tilly confronts her oppressive past.”

The film uses both comedy and drama, notes Manon de Reeper (Film Inquiry), to highlight a variety of women’s and human issues, including “domestic violence and marital rape, misogyny, cross-dressing, even the use of medical cannabis by the elderly.” 

De Reeper’s critique conclusion is one I wholeheartedly support:

The Dressmaker is hilarious, touching, it’s visually pleasing, it’s well-written and has interesting characters, in particular the female ones, who are in control throughout the story…I daresay that if you want to watch a movie that attempts to break taboos (without punching you in the face with it), is a ton of fun, and if you enjoy a woman’s story told from a woman’s point of view, it certainly is essential viewing – even for men.

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