FNC 2010: Tamara Drewe

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“Ultimately, the film is never quite clearly defined. Be it on a thematic, stylistic or narrative level, it never commits – not even to non-commitment.”

Tamara Drewe

Directed by Stephen Frears

It has been many years since Stephen Frears has made a good film, and if Tamara Drewe is any indication, it will be many years yet before we see another. Though it has some promising beginnings, this particular comedy of efforts quickly falls apart, losing both verve and focus, making for a meandering cinematic experience. There are little redeeming factors in this story of a small English town turned upside down by the return of the “prodigal” daughter, Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton). Saucy as ever, but with a cosmeticized nose, she attracts the attention the town and chaos ensues.

At best, Drewe is occasionally “cute,” coy enough to inspire a chuckle or two. It is easy to laugh at characters that are recognizably reprehensible, especially with the privilege of distance. The slimy pomposity of Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam), in particularly, stands out as particularly frustrating as he recklessly disregards all around him in order to fuel his ever-inflating ego. Any success he has earned in life is due to his powerful sense of entitlement that seems to have the quality of a virus: anyone who enters his inner circle seems inexplicably infected with the belief he has somehow earned his way, even though he has neither the charm nor the talent to justify his self-worth.

Drewe inevitably begins to fall apart as the storyline takes on more than it can chew. Though some filmmakers are adept at tackling intertwining lives, it would seem Frears is not. It is never clear how cartoonish the characters are supposed to be, and early on, when they are at their most outrageous, the film is engaging and fun. When the film shifts and they become more three-dimensional, the film ironically becomes more difficult to relate to and any established commentary and humor seems to drift away.

Ultimately, the film is never quite clearly defined. Be it on a thematic, stylistic or narrative level, it never commits – not even to non-commitment. The film just feels like a cautious, but scatter-brained venture by an insecure filmmaker looking for a light hit. When it comes down to it, this film is unexceptionally mediocre, which can be a far worse crime then creating something abysmal – at least that makes for a memorable experience.

Justine Smith

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