TAMARA DREWE Review; Frears' weakest and most disposable film of his whole career

rating: 1

My prevailing and unshakable thought upon viewing the lightweight, Sunday afternoon 'tv' movie Tamara Drewe (which astonishing is being marketed as the next Bridget Jones with a wide cinematic release in the U.K. from today) when it screened in Cannes earlier this summer - was what the hell has happened to the great Stephen Frears and his once diverse and brilliant career? We all know aging is never good for any artist and perhaps some of their latter days sins should maybe not be so much forgiven but definitely best forgotten - but Tamara Drewe is such an astonishingly disposable and disastrous experience that I kinda felt embarrassed. Sorry the for the guy, in a way. Yeah... I doubt very much Frears needs my sympathy but then again if the one balding producer (I'm guessing) who was being congratulated on 'a wonderful film... honestly' by one of his peers outside of the Salle Bunuel is any indication of the insincere and ludcrious nose-browning Frears gets these days, then maybe somebody needs to tell him his recent films are awful. Or maybe he knows it and just doesn't care? All I could feel during the painful experience of actually watching Tamara Drewe was that it was a memo from the director to the rest of the world that 'I am a sell out, work-for-hire... call me, for anything!'. Directors who have become too comfortable in life (Tim Burton's another) don't interest me as filmmakers because this is the crap they turn out when they have no hardships in life, and therefore nothing to say. In truth, Frears has always been something of a journeyman director but until recently his works were always filled with invention. You could always rely on accomplished pieces of cinema where he could adapt to any genre and challenge it's codes and conventions. I'm thinking of films like The Hit, My Beautiful Laundrette, The Grifters and High Fidelity - but recently with his tired, impersonal and cliched ridden Cheri and Mrs. Henderson Presents... he's pretty much told us the game is up. The only brief exception to the rule was The Queen - however that needed the performances of Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen to elevate the movie from t.v. material to Oscar territory. Adapted from the Posy Simmonds daily comic strip of the same name, Tamara Drewe is a dull 21st century version of Thomas Hardy's 19th century Far From A Maddening Crowd, set in a quiet and picturesque Dorset Village. At least it's quiet until Gemma Arteton, a city newspaper columnist returns to the town she grew-up in with a much more fanciful figure (including a nose-job) and voluptuous curves than she left with as an awkward teenager some years earlier. After the untimely death of her mother, she has returned to sell of her estate which overlooks a writer's re-treat and farm ran by Tamsin Greig. From there, the beauty becomes the object of lustful affection of the wife's hubbie and popular crime novelist (Roger Allam), their gardener (Luke Evans) and a locally born rocky pop star (Dominic Cooper) who is back in town for a near-by gig. Our title character changes beds with two of them, whilst the gardener gets jealous and blah, blah, blah - you know where it's going. It's by-the-book, painting by numbers, middle-class depiction of a romantic comedy which American audiences might find charming, but anyone who actually comes from old Blightly might simply find absurd and false. The only mild laughs in the film come from the self-conscious performance of Bill Camp, who plays an American scholar who is struggling to finish his long-gestated work on Thomas Hardy, a not so clever reference to why this story is here. But again, this might be a cultural reason as to why I clinged on to that character over the inaccurate English portrayls. What stops Tamara Drewe from hitting anywhere near the heights of a Bridget Jones movie is that it forgets that movie was so memorable because of it's character focus on Renee Zellweger's likable but pathetic lead. In Drewe, she's a somewhat intelligent (she is a journo after all), presentable, good-looking and affectionate young woman whose only problem is she's a slut and can't read the real reasons behind the advances of men. And we don't spend enough time with her to understand her pathetic ways. She's not in the movie from the beginning, showing up late in the first act and is often sidelined in what really is an ensemble feature. Big mistake because without her central point to pull the gravity of the movie together, we simply don't have anyone to lie our hat on. The plot moves way too fast (what am I saying... that might have been a blessing!!) - Moira Buffini's screenplay, moves too anxiously from plot point to plot point and you kinda wished it would slow down, and take in the beautiful scenery and the acting talent that was there and underused. All in all, it's a huge failure for Fears. A movie that's difficult to believe, has no emotional center, offers nothing new or original to it's over-used setup, has few laughs, few performances to savour and very little personality. It's definitely the most disposable movie of Fears' career and if this is all we have to look forward to for the rest of his career... then I'm out. Tamara Drewe is released in the U.K. from today.
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Matt Holmes is the co-founder of What Culture, formerly known as Obsessed With Film. He has been blogging about pop culture and entertainment since 2006 and has written over 10,000 articles.