Tamara Drewe Reviews
In fact while Gemma Arterton is the title character I was more interested in the characters revolving around her in the little community of Ewedown. Worth the time watching as a change of pace from the standard American dramedies out there.
Taking a contemporary graphic novel (by Posy Simmonds) inspired by a Thomas Hardy book sounds intriguing, but this entire movie worth much less than each of its excellent component parts. I know the Hardy story (Far From the Madding Crowd) is a far more satisfying experience, and though I haven't read the Posy SImmonds graphic novel, it must surely be more consistent in tone and execution than this hodgepodge.
Tamara (Gemma Arterton) is a former ugly duckling with a huge honker who returns to her native village as a successful journalist and is now a swan (with an all correcting nose job) and proceeds to have affairs with three contrasting men, a local married thriller writer (Allam), a rock star (Cooper) and finally, the salt of the earth good man (Evans) who is a down on his luck laborer on her family's property.
Arterton is certainly sexy and intelligent, but she does not carry the film with the requisite charisma. She failed to make me empathize with her character's plight, what with owning a stunning country property, being stunning, and having the choice of any man she wants. The three men are all cliches and I didn't care about them much either, since they didn't really come across as three dimensional human being. Much of the drama and conflict of the story is experienced through the writer's long suffering and naive wife, (Tamsin Greig) who is the only character that I cared about, and then only marginally, mostly due to Greig's memorable, often funny and vulnerable performance. There are two teens in love with the rock star, and so they make everyone's live miserable with their meddling, undermining behavior. They are fun, but their meddling is there to just provide convenient and paint by numbers plot complications, which involve, among other things, hacked and fake phone messages (rapidly becoming a tired movie cliche).
The film has a macabre and dire ending (true to Hardy) that does not fit with the mostly farcical tone of the rest of the film. Sorry, worth a sleepy plane ride if you can't select the content, but there are so many other superior similar films (Mike Leigh's lighter fare, for example). I know that's not a very big thumbs up at all.
The story mainly pertains to the group of writers that congregate around the retreat, which is run by Beth Hardiment (Tamen Greig) and financed by her husband Nicholas (Roger Allam), a successful writer of crime novels. Beth is the perfect hostess, always cooking up something wondrous in the kitchen, while hubby is an arrogant boor, confident that his literary success marks him as someone to be listened to.
Into their idyllic hamlet steps the titular girl Tamara, who grew up there a member of the landed gentry, but hampered by a keen resemblance to Jimmy Durante. It is now 10 years later and armed with a new proboscis, Tamara returns, obstensively to do a bit of work on the old country manor in preparation to put it up for sale.
Of course everyone is smitten by Tamara (Gemma Arterton), and for a time, this near bedroom farce will entertain, especially as it is observed by two precocious girls in their early teens. In the pudding are the Hardiment's handyman, whose family once owned what is now the Drewe manor; and a rock drummer who is the idol of the young girls and seduces Tamara (who is a free-lance writer) by pinning her against the kitchen cabinets and then drumming on all the pots, pans, spice bottles, and whatever else is nearby.
The acting throughout is top drawer, from all the already mentioned to Dominic Cooper as the drummer, Luke Evans as the handyman, and Bill Camp as an American scholar trying to overcome writers block and write the definitive treatise on Hardy. The two precocious teens are also a joy, and the first half of the film is snappy and entertaining... but then it sadly becomes all a muddle, with motivations running off the rails in what becomes a shag fest parody that loses its focus.
All of the good work in the first half of the film is squandered, especially when you realize that Tamara, who along with the teens instigates the action, isn't really a defined character. You wonder what she's doing and why, and the film woefully neglects to fill in the blanks, leaving you to assume that this is just an ugly duckling tale, and Tamara is taken by her own new sexuality and wants to go out for a test drive or ten.
The film could have survived these omissions, but sadly the second half of the film becomes episodic; little vignettes and skits that include a totally unnecessary bit involving the drummer's pet dog. All the momentum seems to slide away, and you begin to not care about anyone other than the American and Beth.
I suppose it wasn't easy to juggle the multiple threads with all the characters involved, but Frears I believe could have done a better job, as the handyman, who is in the forefront for the first half of the film, all but disappears until the film's conclusion, where it is really unnecessary for him to make an appearance, other than for appearance sake. This is all unfortunate, for I truly enjoyed the first half of the film - which of course makes its slide into convention and mediocrity in the 2nd half all the more maddening.
There's a lot happening in this film - a lot of characters, and most seem to be having romantic issues. Some of the characters work better than others. Tamara herself would be one of the weaker characters, although Gemma Arterton plays her nicely. She just doesn't seem to have a strong sense of self, being a girl who has left the small town she grew up in to have a nose job, and returned as a hot girl. Although it is obvious early on who the right guy for her is, she still makes a few mistakes along the way, one of them worse than the other.
There is also the married couple who run a retreat for authors. The husband who is a writer himself is a dog, for want of a better word! The ending I didn't see coming, but I guess it was one way to deal with this character who had no redeeming features at all. Some of the authors at the retreat are also quite interesting.
Adapted on the British's weekly comic strip serial (which was then re-published as a graphic novel) by Posy Simmonds.
Tamara Drewe is a twisty, soap-opera-ish, story about a woman who returns to the small town she used to come home, nose job in tow, and turns the local writing community upside down in the process.
It's a nice role for Gemma Arterton, with a large supporting cast of Roger Allam, Bill Camp, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans, Tamsin Greig, Jessica Barden, and others. The story sort of meanders between the various characters, and there's not much of a central theme, other than how Tamara is a bit lost in life and how that plays havoc on the small town she returns to.
I'd describe it as occasionally amusing, instead of funny. Interesting enough to watch once, but you probably won't be in a rush to see it again.
Tamara Drewe: It's not actually new, it's just smaller.
Of all the films adapted from graphic novels released this year, Tamara Drewe will probably be the one met with the least amount of fanfare. Despite being based on a very popular British comic strip by Posy Simmonds, it is not one about having a flashy genre premise. As fun as those films can be (and as much as I enjoy them, e.g. Kick Ass and I think I've been clear about my love for Scott Pilgrim) Tamara Drewe is a very enjoyable and sexy contemporary comedy. The film is full of quick witted dialogue, many interlocking plot threads, and an atmosphere that is very breezy in its presentation. The action in this comic adaptation comes from the way these characters interact both verbally and romantically.
The film stars Gemma Arterton (stepping away from fantasy epics such as Prince of Persia) as the titular character. Tamara was once the ugly duckling of the quaint village town, Ewedown, located in the West Country of England, but has now returned as a much desired beauty, thanks to some plastic surgery. The operation Tamara received, to make her nose much smaller, was also the subject of her own blog, which lead her to become a famed journalist. By returning home, Tamara's intentions are to fix up the country home she grew up in and sell it off; however, Tamara's arrival may also upset the mostly quiet lives of those living in the area.
As Ewedown is a small village town in the English countryside, it has become a place for many to come to in order to seek relaxation. In particular, the neighboring farm to Tamara's home is the home of famous novelist Nicholas Hardiment, played by Roger Allam, and his wife Beth, played by Tamsin Greig. The two of them host a writer's retreat for people to come and enjoy the quiet setting, while also enjoying Beth's cooking and advice from Nicholas. In particular, an American, Glen (Bill Camp), is among those looking to find peace and inspiration, so he can overcome his writer's block, even while dealing with Nicholas' apparent pompousness. Also living in the area is Andy Cobb (Luke Evans), handyman and gardener for the farm and former lover of Tamara's pre-nose job. Rounding out this cast living in the area are two bored village teenagers, Casey and Jody (Charlotte Christie and Jessica Barden), who spy on all the village goings-on.
Getting back to the area being upset by Tamara's presence, it is her way manipulating emotions that puts many of the men around in a state of unease. Certainly complicating matters is Tamara's decision to develop a relationship with a wildly self obsessed rock star, Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper), who the young girls also happen to be obsessed with. This decision certainly strikes a chord with Andy, who is helping Tamara remodel her old home, as well as Nicholas, who has done some dilly dallying in the past, and looks to be not changing his way so soon. Various paths will cross throughout and under different circumstances as feelings are revealed and certain measures are taken.
Andy Cobb: What do you have to do to get a cup of tea around here?
Tamara Drewe: Make it.
Despite the somewhat long summary, I've hardly spoiled much of anything. Much of the joy in this film comes from the ways in which all these storylines play out, intersecting at different points, and taking fun turns along the way. While the film is titled Tamara Drewe, the amount of characters present in this film and the ways in which they are driven tend to suggest that no one is truly the lead character.
I guess that's another aspect of this film that I enjoyed. One can watch this film and have a good time deciding which character it is that they want to root for or have the most fun with. If I had to choose now, I would probably want to go along with Glen, the sad sack American who is also smart and witty. This is certainly the element that best gets across the graphic novel basis, by being able to wander around between different characters and expand upon their arcs.
The film was directed by Stephen Frears, who, despite devoting time to what are ostensibly character comedy/dramas (The Queen, Dangerous Liasons, High Fidelity), manages to jump around from genre to genre with ease. With this film, he manages to take material that is fairly small in scale, despite being somewhat sprawling in terms of all the characters involved, and balance all of the plot threads quite well. While not being a director known for a signature style, he manages to retain a sure footing that keeps this film steady and moving at a brisk pace.
A strength that Frears does manage to pull off again is his casting. As this is a very dialogue heavy and very British film, the cast is full of accomplished British stage actors, among others, who have no problem trading lines with one another. Starting with Arterton, her Tamara is easily the trickiest role, as we are not entirely sure what her ultimate goal is, as she establishes a different sort of relationship with all the men she encounters. She is aware of the beauty she now possesses, but seems to be seeking the attraction of others as opposed to actually being able to settle down with someone. The rest of the characters, while not one-sided, have to both play at being effective characters, while also almost representing a caricature in some sort of way. You have the handsome, rural farmer, the rock star, a teenage girl, etc.; all of these characters function as a specific role. Of these, I would say that the best work comes, once again from the American, Glen, as played by Camp, but also great work from Allum and Greig as the famous and self-important writer and his long suffering wife.
The film only suffers in the usual sort of way for one such as this. While I am mostly fine with the way it balances all of the characters, I think it is apparent that material must have been cut in order to keep a good enough pace to the film. As a result, while you certainly have a sense for who everyone is, some more fleshing out could have benefited some individually. The other factor that is a result of the sprawling sense of characters is the chaotic way in which the ending plays out. It makes sense, as each of these plot strands need to come to a head, but the events feel a bit more due to the constraints of this being a film as opposed to being a natural sort of end.
Still, what is most important is how breezy and enjoyable the film is. It works as a solid, contemporary comedy. Gemma Arterton is a very likable actress in the title role. The film, which is based around dialogue, does a great job at providing scenes full of witty exchanges. It may not be one of the more exciting films of this year, but it is certainly very charming...and features cows!
Andy Cobb: Marriage...remind me never to try it.
Zoe: Andy, you're just a sex object. No one would have you.
To be honest, "Tamara Drewe" is a nice-looking near miss of a movie. The movie moves well enough along but in a haphazard direction towards its chaotic finale. Mind the nitpicking but it is not about Tamara, nor is it really about anyone else either, as it just jumps from character to character who do not develop any further from their initial introduction as cliches. At least, the teenage girls are more distracting than insufferable. And there is little conflict between the writers and the townies which one would normally expect. The intellectual conflict arises in the retreat due to Nicholas being unlikable because he is popular as most writers are not as interesting as they think they are. Thomas Hardy gets referenced, mostly in connection with his marrying a much younger woman(no wonder Roman Polanski was drawn to him) which fits in with any stray thoughts the movie might have about fame. Sadly, it has little to say about the creative process.
As Ms. Drewe, we don't ever necessarily like Artertons character, but instead we wonder why she does the things she is doing. She has only returned to this small town to fix up her recently deceased mothers home so she can sell it. While there though it is nearly impossible for her to avoid falling in with old flames, or running in with old townsfolk who knew her as a completely different girl than the one she has returned as. Where the film succeeds in its character development and bringing several different plot strands together to form one coherent story is great and a real joy to watch unfold as the characters here really are the most enjoyable thing about the film. What I wasn't sure of the whole time though was the fuss around our title character. Sure she got a nose job and "grew up" since the last time anyone had seen her, but she isn't all THAT interesting of a person, instead she just seems to be the one who makes the worst decisions and attracts the most trouble. This is forgiveable though, she may not be interestign enough to deserve the film being named after her, but the other characters around her make this movie a fun one to get involved with.
The two scene stealers here are the youngest of the cast, Jessica Barden especially relishes every scene she is in and enjoys being the cause of much of the mayhem that brings Drewe into the center of all the drama that begins to errupt after her return. Along with Charlotte Christie, the two create a great tone of what it is like to be young and bored, seemingly waiting for your life to start and doing whatever you can to pass the time and make things interesting until that point. Besides that, there is also interesting things going on with the ever rising Dominic Cooper and Luke Evans, both vying for Tamara's affection while this love triangle is dirupted by a particularly nasty performance by Roger Allam. It is really pitch perfect though and leaves an imprint for just how cheeky british comedy can be.
In the end, this is a fun comedy that deserves some attention from those here in the states. If not for more exposure to the wonderful world of British comedy at least for the enjoyment of an odd little flick where interesting people make quirky choices and it ends up being enjoyable enough to be happy you spent the time on it. You may not tell your friends about it or even necessarily think of it as that great of a movie, but you will like it. It has something undeniable about it.