Jocelyn Moorhouse directs this Australian revenge comedy starring Kate Winslet as Myrtle Dunnage, a woman who returns to her hometown to take care of her ailing mother Molly (Judy Davis). Myrtle's return sparks much debate between the residents of the town as she was accused of murdering someone many years ago. Now an expert dressmaker, Myrtle goes about transforming the local fashion while exacting her revenge upon those who have wronged her in the past... The supporting cast includes Liam Hemsworth and Hugo Weaving.
I'm usually a big fan of movies with quirky characters, so when I heard the premise of 'The Dressmaker' – as well as some of the actors who star in it – I went into the film with high expectations about what I was about to watch. Sadly, at least for this reviewer, 'The Dressmaker' never quite clicked for me, and it feels like one of those movies where the creators got so preoccupied with what they were showing (the film features some outstanding costume design and visuals) they lost track focusing on what they were telling.
The movie is based on a novel of the same name by writer Rosalie Ham, and was actually released in its home country of Australia back in 2015 (when it got nominated for a number of critics' awards...but never got any Oscar love) but didn't get a U.S. release until 2016. Both the novel and the movie are supposed to provide sort of a feminist take on the old 'revenge Western' genre, with the title character returning to a town that has done her wrong in the past to get some payback. Sadly, the movie (I can't speak for the novel, as I've never read it) never quite lives up to that premise.
'The Dressmaker' stars Kate Winslet in the lead role as Tilly Dunnage, who returns to her hometown as the movie begins, after spending years away and establishing herself as a quite reputable fashion/clothing designer. She left the town, however, because the residents there have always blamed her for the death of a young boy (when she herself was a young girl), although Tilly seems to have blocked out her memories of what really happened. Her mother, Molly (Judy Davis), isn't much help either, as she's become mentally ill in the years that Tilly has been away. Therefore, much of the movie hinges on whether Tilly is actually a murderer or not, as well as revealing to the audience what really happened all those years ago.
The rest of the film is preoccupied with showing audiences all the other quirky characters that make up Tilly's hometown, including a cross-dressing police sergeant (Hugo Weaving) and the frumpy-looking Gertrude (Sarah Snook), who – of course – Tilly is able to turn into a stunning beauty by designing a dress for her to wear to the town dance. Perhaps the only "normal" guy around is Teddy (Liam Hemsworth), who – no surprise here – pursues a romantic relationship with Tilly.
The problem with 'The Dressmaker' – which was directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse (best known for helming 'How to Make an American Quilt') – is that the director (and cinematographer Donald McAlpine) seems more obsessed with making every shot of the movie look as visually impressive as possible instead of focusing on the story – which, frankly, is all over the place. Is it a comedy? Is is a drama? Is it a revenge flick? The creators can't ever seem to decide. Even at a not-so-lengthy two hours, 'The Dressmaker' feels like it could have a lot of fat trimmed from its running time, with no ill effect on the movie. I suppose if one is really into fashion design or perhaps in film school and wants to study what well-designed shots look like, there's a lot to admire here. But the true goal of any movie should be to engage its audience with a great story, and that just didn't happen to me watching this film. I'd recommend passing on this one.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Dressmaker' fabricates onto Blu-ray in a standard Elite keepcase, which houses the 50GB disc with no inserts. There are no front-loaded trailers on this title, whose main menu features a montage of footage from the movie, with menu selections horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
'The Dressmaker' was shot digital using RED epic cameras and is presented on Blu-ray in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Despite my feelings about the movie itself, it's a great-looking film, and the transfer here does the cinematography justice, with rich, bold colors and a really nice level of detail that shows off the Australian landscape where this movie was shot. The image isn't quite reference quality (there's a little banding and just of hint of aliasing here and there), but I can't imagine viewers having too many complaint over how this Blu-ray looks. Black levels are fairly strong throughout, and skin tones look natural and well-defined, although honestly at time the detail is so good that some of the male actors' makeup is a little obvious. Still, a pretty impressive image overall.
The featured audio here is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track and, as you may have already guessed given the description of the film, this is primarily a dialogue-heavy movie with most of it coming from the front and center speaker. That said, the surrounds do kick in more often than you might think, especially during scenes involving multiple actors, like a football game that takes place early in the movie or during a town dance. The rear speakers are also used to enhance composer David Hirschfelder's musical score. The track overall is somewhat restrained (there's little, if any, LFE use), but it's more than adequate for a movie such as this, and I detected no dropouts or glitches while watching/listening to the film.
In addition to the English track, a Spanish 5.1 DTS Digital Surround track is also an option. Subtitles are available in both English SDH and Spanish.
Full of quirky characters and a plot that I found sort of all over the map, the only thing I can really give 'The Dressmaker' credit for it that it's a beautifully shot and great-looking movie. While fans of the novel upon which it is based may want to check this one out, for most I think this one is safely skippable.