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Erin Watches Bad Movies: The Dressmaker

6 minutes to read

I love bad movies. I watch bad movies with joy in my heart, because nothing makes me happier than incomprehensible scripts, unfathomable acting choices and terrible, terrible CGI. However, this curious blend can be an acquired taste so for many people, the movies that make me happiest of all will languish unwatched. I understand not everyone wants to waste 2 hours of their life on a bad movie – apparently some people have productive hobbies? For those people, I have decided on a generous compromise: I will watch a terrible movie and describe it for you, spoilers and all, such that in the five minutes it takes to read, you might understand its insanity without having to endure the full 90 minute cinema experience.

So please, allow me to begin with a film that I watched in the sincere belief that it would be a nice, normal, respectable picture, but turned out to be a wild rollercoaster of wife-drugging, tendon-slashing, hem-sewing mayhem: The Dressmaker.

Good lord, this movie.

The Plot in One Line:

A fabulously talented and beautiful dressmaker returns to her hometown in rural Australia in search of answers regarding her involvement in a mysterious death years before.

Sarah Snook preparing to fly out of this movie. SOURCE
Sarah Snook preparing to fly away from this madness. SOURCE

What the Movie is Actually About:

Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage, a Devil Wears Prada-esque ice queen fashion designer (Kate Winslet), comes home from Europe to stay with her mother (Judy Davis), who is apparently suffering from dementia and whom everyone calls “Mad Molly”, which seems in very poor taste. I eventually wondered whether Mad Molly might have been faking the dementia all along, in order to avoid telling Tilly anything about the strange events of her childhood. Tilly was exiled from their shithole town as a child and only seems better off for it, but nevertheless is desperate to know whether or not she was responsible for the death of a boy in her class when they were 10. She purports to have repressed any memory of the matter, but the town’s gossipy housewives openly, and with spiteful glee, accuse her of murder every chance they get. Meanwhile, she is romanced by local farmboy Teddy McSwiney, which is an implausibly ugly name for any character played by Liam Hemsworth.

The events that ensue can only be described as a series of bizarre and escalating crimes, beginning with the supply of hash brownies to an elderly woman and culminating in the entire town being razed to the ground, interspersed throughout with multiple strange and inexplicable deaths. If there is a sound internal logic for any of these actions, I was not able to discern it. Instead, every character in the film appears to be permanently set at the ‘screaming hysteria’ end of the emotional spectrum. The speed at which these people fly into a bloodthirsty rage is astounding, but even without their white-knuckled bouts of violence there is the feeling that some malevolent force is punishing the townsfolk for…being bitchy? Some of the characters do despicable things, but it is still difficult to accept their brutal demise without feeling that there is some strange imbalance of justice.

Tilly repeatedly mentions that she is “cursed”, but there is no evidence of this curse ever having affected her life before her return home. It seems more like the entire town was an incredibly delicate ecosystem, in which each citizen’s life was hanging by a thread from a Rube Goldberg machine of doom that Tilly triggered by simply setting foot there. Strangest of all is that the movie takes well over an hour to commence the slaughter, dragging you through an eternity of clichéd rom-com scenes before suddenly exploding into madness in its final act. So many scenes and implied events in this movie are really, really dark, but the tone throughout is that of a sort of wacky, offbeat comedy. It ultimately comes off feeling a little like a cross between Chocolat and I Spit On Your Grave, if you only vaguely understood the plot of either.

Also, Hugo Weaving plays a cross-dressing police officer obsessed with nice fabrics to the point of perversion. In several scenes he fondles silks and groans ecstatically, and at one point he is bribed with a feather boa to share confidential police files. There are so many facets of crazy in this movie.

This image is everything you need to know. SOURCE
This image is everything you need to know. SOURCE

The Best Scene:

I told myself the saving grace of this movie would be that even if the plot made no sense, even if the acting was sometimes bad, I would at least enjoy looking at Liam Hemsworth. And indeed, you’re given plenty of opportunity to perve on Thor-lite, all the way up until he spontaneously leaps into a grain silo full of sorghum and suffocates. This takes place just moments after the climax of his romance with Tilly. It is absolutely unclear why this happens – every other death in the movie at least has a feeling of comeuppance, of payback for some prior wrongdoing, but not Teddy’s. It seems that Teddy’s death simply serves to drop every jaw in the audience. I laughed for a solid 10 minutes after this scene, and I still laugh whenever I think about him jumping into that silo and just never being heard from again.

Should You Watch It?

I almost want to say yes just because visually, the movie is stunning, the costumes are great and Winslet looks amazing. I almost want to say yes on the strength of that grain silo scene alone. Honestly though, this was an ordeal, guys. This was tough to sit through. It also featured some pretty questionable gender politics – nobody likes the frumpy girl until she has a nice dress made for her, and then suddenly she is getting married because her tits look so amazing in a strapless gown? I can’t on good faith recommend watching it, except to support Australian film, but I can guarantee that if you do you’ll be thinking about it while staring at the ceiling for several nights afterward.

For reviews of less insane films, try The Revenant, or for a more constructive look at Australian cinema, The Need for Australian Westerns.