DVD Review: ‘Tamara Drewe’ Charms, Exasperates in Equal Measure

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CHICAGO – A simple glance at the trailer and poster for “Tamara Drewe” would lead one to assume that the film was a showcase for the largely untapped abilities of Gemma Arterton. At age 25, she’s already been wasted in three regrettable Hollywood blockbusters, emerging as little more than a low-rent Rachel Weisz. Her strong work in British productions like “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” suggests that she may merely be miscast.

Yet under the direction of Britain’s filmmaking giant Stephen Frears, Arterton appears to be more lackluster than ever. Perhaps it’s because her titular role is sidelined right from the get-go. Or perhaps it’s because her character is woefully one note to begin with. Either way, the film is a disappointment. Based on Posy Simmonds’s graphic novel, which was itself a modernized adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel, “Far From the Madding Crowd,” the film is a passable sex romp with enough fitfully entertaining elements to distract from its hollow center.

HollywoodChicago.com DVD Rating: 2.5/5.0
DVD Rating: 2.5/5.0

Set in the idyllic, golden-hued village of Ewedown, “Drewe” whimsically flips through the lives of its neurotic inhabitants, nearly all whom harbor the desire to get published…and get laid. Into town emerges a woman who could easily achieve both: Tamara Drewe (Arterton), of course. According to some awkwardly placed flashbacks, Tamara used to be known at Ewedown’s ugly duckling, sporting a humongous nose that could easily have been worn by Alec Guinness in “Oliver Twist.” By getting a nose job and squeezing into ultra-tight shorts that leave absolutely nothing to the imagination, Tamara instantly seduces every ineligible male in the tight-knit community. She also happens to be an accomplished journalist, a position that gives her front row access to the easily swayed heartstrings of superstar drummer Ben (Dominic Cooper). When Tamara brings Ben back to Ewedown for a full frontal interview, she causes local yokel Andy (Luke Evans) to feel as if he’s lost her, though he never really had her in the first place (that teenage shag in the barn doesn’t count). So Andy pouts on down to the local bar and has empty sex with the bartender, before whining to her about Tamara. And this is the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for, folks.

Tamara Drewe was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Feb. 8, 2011.
Tamara Drewe was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Feb. 8, 2011.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

When Tamara later spots Andy kissing the bartender, she breaks into tears. Why? The film doesn’t provide the viewer with any notion of their past relationship, and therefore makes the forced melodrama of their lost love seem artificial in the extreme. Thankfully, that hardly matters, since Tamara’s story is routinely upstaged by the gallery of eccentric Ewedownians, all of whom are granted far more screen time than Arterton. Bill Camp is a stitch as Glen, the droll, doughy writer who would probably be luckier with the ladies if he didn’t say, “I feel like a man who’s passed a gargantuan stool,” after curing his writer’s block. Glen only has eyes for Beth (a nearly unrecognizable Tamsin Greig), the long-suffering wife of an adulterous author (Roger Allam). All three actors are so compelling that they render the “main” plot thread irrelevant. And hats off to Jessica Barden, the smashingly talented 18-year-old who pulls off a star-making performance as Jody, the mischievous teen whose hormonal idolization of Ben causes her to wreak havoc on Tamara’s life, with the help of her friend Casey (a delightfully deadpan Charlotte Christie). Barden’s hilariously venomous portrayal hijacks the entire picture and never gives it back. She nails the narcissistic zeal of adolescence and emerges as the film’s rotten heart. Like everyone else in the village, her character simply wants to get laid, and will utilize the most shameless forms of deception in order to get what she wants. Live the dream, Jode.

“Tamara Drewe” is presented in its 2.40:1 aspect ratio, accompanied by English and French audio tracks. The audio commentary track includes less-than-enlightening insights from the two least interesting members of the cast: Arterton and Evans. They spend most of the time gushing about how brilliant everything is, while counting the number of scenes in which Glen is required to have food in his mouth (that’s admittedly amusing). Arterton notes that Lily Allen’s “The Fear” was chosen to introduce Tamara partly because Allen is the daughter of producer Allison Owen and partly because the song succinctly describes Tamara’s own lust for material success. Frears instructed Arterton to deliver her first line, “What a dump,” as if she were Bette Davis (he clearly didn’t know who he was working with).

In a 13-minute making-of featurette, Frears says that he felt as if he were making “a comedy and a tragedy at the same moment,” which certainly explains the bitter aftertaste left by the picture. A 10-minute featurette offers glimpses at the comic strip serial, which heavily influenced Arterton in her onscreen posturing. It’s interesting to see how much time these extras devote to Tamara, as if she were the film’s main focus (Frears does little more than play peekaboo with her body parts). Arterton earns points for admitting that she hated Tamara on the page, and sought to create moments in the film that would generate empathy for her character, resulting in all the tacked on glimmers of humanity that ring entirely false. Frears says that he was eager to give Jody and Casey more screen time, and even cut out a scene from the novel where Jody dies. Sitting next to the director, Arterton voices her wish that he had kept the scene in. “I love dark endings!” Arterton gushes. I suppose she can’t be faulted for wanting to get rid of the little scene stealer.

‘Tamara Drewe’ is released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and stars Gemma Arterton, Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Roger Allam, Tamsin Greig, Bill Camp, Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie. It was written by Moira Buffini and directed by Stephen Frears. It was released on Feb. 8, 2011. It is rated R.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

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