A silly tale that wins by a nose
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, October 22, 2010
"Tamara Drewe" is one in a million.
Try to think of a movie to compare it to, and you'll probably come up blank. And that's including any of the various filmed versions of Thomas Hardy's "Far From the Madding Crowd," the 1874 novel that served as the loose inspiration for the 2007 graphic novel by Posy Simmonds on which "Tamara Drewe" is based.
Are you with me so far?
Don't fret. The only connection between Hardy (whether on paper or celluloid) and this naughty - and very, very funny - confection from director Stephen Frears ("The Queen") is the central plot dynamic of a flirtatious young woman and the three men she drives crazy. That, and the fact that "Tamara Drewe" is also set in the bucolic English countryside, in this case at a writer's retreat where one of the residents is working on a scholarly study of an unnamed Hardy novel. "Is there anything left to say about that maudlin bore?" asks Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam), a writer of pulpy bestsellers and a spouter of plummy obscenities who, with his wife, Beth (Tamsin Greig), runs the retreat.
Beyond that dismissive comment, very little is said about Hardy ever again. "Tamara Drewe" reserves the bulk of its barbs for contemporary literary pretension while saving a few skewers for today's hookup-happy sexual mores.
Most of them are aimed at the heart of the titular heroine. Like almost everyone else in the film, Tamara (Gemma Arterton) is a writer, albeit a lowly newspaper columnist. When she shows up in Ewedown, the village she grew up in - sporting a nose job that has transformed her from a girl nicknamed "Beaky" into a humina-humina hottie - she immediately sets several men's hearts aflutter, along with other body parts. The smitten include Nicholas, already a serial philanderer; Tamara's hunky old boyfriend Andy (Luke Evans), who has never really stopped loving her; and Ben (Dominic Cooper), a narcissistic rock drummer whom Tamara is interviewing for a story.
Ben also happens to be the object of affection for 15-year-old Jody (Jessica Barden), a local girl who, along with her best friend Casey (Charlotte Christie), serves as a kind of Greek chorus for the film. Together, they offer running snotty commentary on - and in more than one instance actually precipitate - Ewedown's adult goings-on.
Barden, who could pass for a teenage Lindsay Lohan - but with a fouler mouth - steals every scene she's in. Although the film is filled with wonderfully nuanced comic performances, Barden's Jody is reason alone to see "Tamara Drewe." Her filthy-sweet performance perfectly captures the shaky bravado of adolescence. Casey may be the voice of reason - an island of sanity in a sea of silliness - but Jody is more fun to hang out with.
Of course, with all the infidelity, someone is bound to get hurt. And I don't just mean heartbroken. In addition to all the rollicking, ribald humor, "Tamara Drewe" also has a couple of flashes of darkly comic violence. In a literary sense, it's poetic justice, really. Punishment meted out for bad behavior.
Those moments, like the film itself, may not be for everyone. But for anyone with a twisted sense of humor and a taste for the fractured happy ending, they're golden.
Contains violence, drug use, sex, partial nudity, underage smoking and some of the most creative and prolific obscenity you've ever heard.