Tamara Drewe, the latest installment from director Stephen Frears, has both great moments and glaring faults. This is a black comedy adapted from a comic-strip-turned-graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, which itself is based on Thomas Hardy's novel Far from the Maddening Crowd. In the countryside of a writer's retreat, the once ugly duckling Tamara Drewe, now a glamorous yet confused journalist with a life-changing nose job returns to sell her house. This Tamara is not to be confused with the B-horror film Tamara or its titular ax-wielding, cheerleader-killing machine, although that might have been the gimmick this flick needed.
Frears has delivered on romantic sappiness before with The Snapper and The Van that play out like catchy tunes without all the saccharine sweetness.But here, his stylish filmmaking is all slick substance, the timing of the humor hitting the mark only occasionally. By the time we get to the heavy stuff, it's way too late.
The performances landed somewhere between great and mediocre. A few questionable choices were the American dweeb (Bill Camp), name-dropping Thomas Hardy and the drummer from the fictitious band Swipe (Dominic Cooper), who couldn't make up his mind if he was Robert Smith from The Cure or Prince. Gemma Arterton (Clash of Titans and Prince of Persia) takes some getting used to, but at least she's not playing a princess this time. Roger Allan (Speed Racer and V for Vendetta) and Tamsin Greig (Shaun of the Dead) kick it up a notch, flawlessly handling infidelity and all its emotional intricacies. The bored, fanatical, band-worshipping girls (Jessica Barden, Charlotte Christie) steal the show, their immature meddling being the impetus behind the farce that ensues. Swipe's song, "Corporate Domestic Dispute," could be right out of Spinal Tap.
There are snippets of very funny dialogue, but the quirkiness is dissociated from the seriousness of it all. The seductive mind games fall through the cracks and some liaisons aren't explained believably. Even with all the jealousy, unrequited love, sex, vandalism, intellectual posturing, small-town gossip and full-circle revelations, in the end all the little ironies get ironed out. The film's previews suggested Tamara would come back and wreak havoc on those who abused her when she was ugly, but she turns out to be just as clueless as everyone else. Tamara Drewe may be too clever for its own good. The bull's eye was right there, but the arrow just took too many detours.
Starring Gemma Arterton, Roger Allan, Luke Evans, Tamsin Greig
Directed by Stephen Frears