25 years after she was exiled, dressmaker Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage (Kate Winslet) returns to her home town of Dungatar in Australia. Myrtle soon turns heads and livens up the fashions of the townsfolk, all the while getting to the bottom of why she was banished as a child, and exacting revenge where necessary.
Bit of an odd film, this, and almost certainly one I’d never have seen outside of the Winslet project. It’s a film that simultaneously seems to have far too much going on whilst barely having any kind of a plot. Tilly has come back to her home town to care for her sick mother (Judy Davis, who is fantastically acerbic). Tilly also intends to find out why she was exiled, having lost the memory of the events leading up to her mandated departure. All she knows is one of her classmates, Stewart Pettyman, the son of town councillor Evan Pettyman (Shane Bourne) died, and Tilly was blamed. Tilly also sets out to take over the town with her fashionable European dressmaking skills, embarks on a romantic interlude with town hunk Teddy (Liam Hemsworth), potentially seeks the previously unknown identity of her father and embarks on a few other side quests as well. The trouble is that pretty much all of these threads are satisfactorily sewn up after about 75 minutes, but this is a 2-hour film, meaning a couple more unnecessary acts are tacked onto the end, dragging out the pace to that of a snail.
Some of the performances are fine – other than Davis, Hugo Weaving is highly entertaining as a secretly cross-dressing police office with an eye and a passion for Tilly’s couture designs, and Sarah Snook continues her justified progress up the acting tree. There’s nothing all that new from Winslet here, in fact there are many, many echoes of her previous work, right from the opening scene of stepping down from a vehicle in an expensive outfit, looking around in a manner all too reminiscent of Rose in Titanic.
There’s some comedy to be had from the stark juxtaposition of Tilly’s designer dresses against the harsh, barren backdrop of the town, especially once everyone starts wearing them. Initially Tilly seemed the only person in town with any notion of style or personal appearance (and presumably hygiene too), but once her style catches on all the women are suddenly obsessed with their appearances whilst still running the same trivial errands and going about life in much the same way, just with extensive make-up, hair and and dresses.
The men-folk, on the other hand, are either blatant eye candy (Aisha was waiting for the scene promised in the trailer in which Liam Hemsworth strips to his undercrackers) or despicable bastards. The councillor drugs his wife, inducing severe nervousness, before either bedding her or everyone else in the town, whilst the severely hunchbacked chemist Mr. Almanac (Barry Otto) used to beat his wife and tells Tilly “Your mother’s a slut and you’re a bastard!” Charming bloke.
The structure is uneven, some characters just sort of die when the plot doesn’t need them any more and mysteries are resolved without ever being established. A game and entertaining cast are unfairly let down by a plot that doesn’t know what it is, where it’s going or how to get there.
Choose Life 5/10