Adapted from Posy Simmonds’s graphic novel (which itself is an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s “Far From The Madding Crowd”), Stephen Frears’s Tamara Drewe offers up a bit of semi-dark comedy with foul-mouthed 15-year-olds, adulteress affairs, stampeding cows and a lovely pair of short shorts all in the midst of a writers’ retreat in a small English village referred to as Ewendown. It has its share of laughs, but overall hardly moves the dial.
Starring Gemma Arterton as the title character, Tamara Drewe is an upstart journalist and aspiring novelist returned home to claim her childhood spread following the recent death of her mother. When she last left she was sporting a giant schnoz, but upon her return she’s not only displaying her lengthy gams in a pair of short shorts, but a brand new beak. These two factors add up to sending Ewedown into an uproar.
Arterton most recently offered up a lackluster performance in Clash of the Titans and looks to be playing the same character in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and her performance in Tamara Drewe leads me to believe she may never break out of the “hot girl in a movie” role. In what amounts to her first major movie that’s not a blockbuster actioner, she does little to impress outside of looking cute and doesn’t have nearly enough screen presence to feel right for the role. Moments calling for real emotion severely hinder her performance, but I will give her kudos for having the ability to give Roger Allam a good what for when necessary.
Allam stars as Nicholas Hardiment, a best-selling fiction author and the village’s resident celebrity. Nicholas and his wife Beth (Tamsin Greig) hold court to a year-round series of writers’ retreats, the latest of which includes, among others, Glen McCreavy (Bill Camp), a scholarly American author whose bout with writer’s block causes him to further familiarize himself with the Hardiment’s as well as Tamara.
While the title of the film is Tamara Drewe, she isn’t necessarily the film’s primary interest as much as she is the catalyst that drives the stories of those living in Ewedown. Andy Cobb played by Luke Evans is an ex-teenage lover of Tamara’s whose eye again has cast its gaze. Next on the list comes courtesy of the rock band known as Swipe, which has come to Ewedown and prior to a scheduled interview with the band’s drummer Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper), Tamara also captures his attention kick-starting a love affair.
Meanwhile, Casey Shaw and Jody Long (Charlotte Christie and Jessica Barden) are a pair of foul-mouthed 15-year-olds (and perhaps the best part of the film) and they are bored out of their minds. The solution? To know everyone’s business and occasionally egg a few cars. Harboring a passionate lust for Ben, Tamara’s relationship with him becomes Jody’s primary interest and one that takes the story home.
It’s a twisted tale literally made up of sex, drugs, rock and roll and a bit with a dog, but that’s making it sound funnier than it actually is. In truth, the laughs are relatively limited and neither the story nor the characters as written are weighty enough to carry this film for the duration.
Tamara Drewe is playing Out of Competition at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival.