Reviewer: Glenn Heath, Jr.
Rating (out of 5): ***
Glazed in a dusty yellow sheen, Stephen Frears' Tamara Drewe, based on Posy Simmonds' comic strip, coyly dances around a well-traveled idea: the grass is always greener on the other side. At first, this breeds comedic situations through rampant miscommunication, as deeply unhappy souls yearn for a romantic or economic situation that will produce inspiration.
Eventually, these small self-deceptions turn grotesque. Tamara Drewe's collective of off-kilter characters, some purposefully and others regrettably rooted in the small English town of Ewedown, watch romantic relationships unfold from a distance, judging them with a selfish desire for tragedy that will benefit their own needs. Through their outside gaze, we feel the power of gossip and mischief mold the narrative. Perspective is everything for Frears, and often his characters see only what they want to see.
The waves of emotional turmoil quickly rise when Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) returns to Ewedown to sell her deceased mother's property. But her freshly minted presence (and nose job) merely amplifies a series of betrayals and misconceptions that were already in motion long ago. The whirlpool of devious activity occurs at a local retreat for writers, run by the wife of a famous detective novelist who chooses to ignore her husband's blatant infidelity. The retreat introduces all kinds of quirky personalities; some kind, some malicious, but all intrinsically tied to the same tonally diverse space.
Frears doesn't so much direct the film as he does alleviate steam from each character's bursting engine of desire: a little release here, a little release there to keep the film chugging along. This makes Tamara Drewe an ultimately strange experience; part romantic melodrama, part Ealing dark comedy. Its penchant for rambling, anti-climactic bits frustrates you until it becomes clear the real action stems from the rhythms of regret permeating through the landscape.
Serious themes of adultery and deception mask themselves in comedic tangents until the final act reveals them to be damning indictments of people withering away from inaction. Still, there's not enough narrative meat in Tamara Drewe to bite into, and taken as a whole it feels dubiously incomplete. Each character gets their moment in the sun, especially Glen (Bill Camp), a meek but ambitious American writer who, when forced to walk by a row of cows, says, "They exude bovine malice." Despite the consistently interesting ensemble, Frears isn't quite able to piece together the right cocktail of personalities at any one moment. The film's elusive notions about romance all feel fated, but at the same time terribly accidental in nature. It's a contradiction that never connects with the film's themes about romantic facades.
If watching Tamara Drewe produces a feeling of being lulled into a sense of false security, it's only because the characters themselves can't see the forest for the trees. Frears has a tendency to meld his visual aesthetics (or lack thereof) into whatever material he's attacking, and here his directorial style languishes much like the character's arcs. This forces the film into a staggeringly familiar linear narrative that is neither consistently edgy nor funny, but always numbing and forlorn. For all its virtues, the film can never recover from an overarching sense of banality, and watching Tamara and company make mistake after mistake produces a benign form of voyeurism that gets old by the time the credits finally roll.
Bookmark/Search this post with: