Review by Nathan Samdahl (C+)
Tamara Drewe, the new film by director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Mrs. Henderson Presents) is a quaint, quirky, comical entry that delivers a few laughs and an odd cast of characters but struggles to focus on a consistent narrative. Set in the British countryside, the film follows a couple, Beth and Nicholas, who run a retreat for writers. While Beth tries to maintain a welcoming presence for her guests, she must constantly deal with her philandering husband, who is also a pompous mid-level fiction writer. Just as their relationship is reaching a boiling point, in comes Tamara Drewe, a former resident of the town, who of course is gorgeous and brings forth lusty tendencies from most of the men in the story.
Thematically, the story is similar to another recently released film, Woody Allen's You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. Both films deal with characters who think that the grass will be greener on the other side. Of course this is not the case and their infidelities only bring about greater hardship. Of the two, Tamara Drewe is less of a slice-of-life story than Tall Stranger, and while having fewer individually engrossing scenes, Tamara seems more complete and fleshed out.
Unfortunately, despite having all the necessary pieces in play, Tamara Drewe struggles with its focus. While the relationship between Beth, Nicholas and the American writer Glen (who has the hots for Beth) is the most interesting, the film zips between its overplenty array of characters, which include the title character, Ben, the rock star she falls in love with, Andy, her former love who wants her back and two young girls that serve as the puppet masters of the story. Tamara Drewe tries to create a great set of characters, but runs out of time to properly develop them all. But unlike a comparable film such as Gosford Park that followed a dizzying array of wholly unlikeable characters, Tamara Drewe at least has some characters for which to root. In particular, Tamsin Greig is great and alluring in the role of Beth, along with her adulterous husband Nicholas, played expertly by Roger Allam (you don't root for him). Bill Camp as the bumbling writer Glen is also fun to watch.
Surprisingly, the characters that were of least interest were Tamara Drewe (played by rising young actress Gemma Arterton) and those most closely connected with her, particularly Andy and rock star Ben. All of their performances were fine, but it's the more matured relationships in this story that are the most engrossing. Additionally, the two young girls, who disseminate certain lies which cause trouble for the lead characters, are almost given more screen time than some of the leads. As is, their storyline, which I assumed would be an ongoing but briefly shown thread throughout the film appeared to be a tangent that got away from the filmmakers (to the detriment of other, more interesting characters).
Tamara Drewe is one of those movies that upon walking out of the theater causes you to shrug, say "okay" and then move on. It's not poorly made, but it's not that strong either (especially in comparison to some of Frears' other work). I enjoyed the film in the first act much more so than in the second and third, by which point I was over most of the characters. Given the strength of the filmmakers and actors assembled, you wish that creative force was applied to a different story (no offense to the graphic novel on which the story is based, which I have not read). As is, I don't feel like many will remember this film in years to come. Or even shortly after watching it.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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