Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tamara Drewe

At a time when most of 2010’s heavy hitters and Oscar bait are coming out on DVD, it’s rather nice to get a little breather with this rather charming British comedy. It’s airy, fun, and while there’s a good amount of seriousness to the proceedings, it never comes close to being as grim as, say, The Fighter or Buried, and for that I’m grateful.

The film opens at a writers’ retreat in the English countryside hosted by Beth (Tamsin Greig of Black Books fame) and Nicholas (Roger Allam). They are having some difficulties, such as when they get into an argument over his infidelity in front of their fellow writers (By the way, to all of my married readers out there: if you catch your spouse cheating on you, and they claim that they only did it once and will never do it again, they are lying to you and you should leave them). Still, things remain relatively tranquil in Ewedown until the fateful return of fellow writer Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton, doing much better here than she did in Prince of Persia). Tamara had been a bit of an ugly duckling when she had previously lived in town, but now that she’s gotten a nose job and looks all sexy suddenly all the men are desperate to sleep with her, all the women hate her, and neither group takes her seriously intellectually anymore.

There’s a bit more to things than that, but it’s a good deal more fun watching how everything unfolds, and seeing all of the various quirky personalities bouncing off of each other. It’s the type of film you rarely get to see in American cinema, where humor is allowed to flow naturally out of the various characters, without any clumsy setups or forced set pieces that are the bread and butter of American comedies, perhaps because it’s surprisingly hard to make interesting characters by way of executive committee.

Indeed, while the choice to keep things simple and charming may be part of what keeps it from really reaching any great heights, it’s pretty much clever and interesting all the way through. The contrasting styles of the various writers are pretty entertaining (and while this may make me a huge nerd, I did love all the discussion of Thomas Hardy and how he’s so inscrutable that the author writing about him is already two years past his book deadline -- apparently the film is based on a graphic novel that was inspired by a Thomas Hardy novel, but I‘m hardly enough of an expert to say which), and the endless mix of hatred and optimism of the two teen girls whose names I never wrote down is a constant delight. Also, this has nothing to do with comedy, but I would be amiss if I didn’t mention how incredibly attractive Gemma Arterton is. I know I didn’t really like her in Prince of Persia, but really, I didn’t like much of anything about that terrible movie. Here she’s much more lively and interesting, and proves to be much more attractive when everything’s not color adjusted to look varying shades of brown and tan.

I should say that it’s not entirely a comedy, despite how casually amusing the film tends to be. The film does delve into some serious issues, such as Nicholas’s infidelity, and a bit of a relationship wrecking crisis caused by the spiteful mass e-mail sent out by someone pretending to be someone else. Still, for the most part, the serious issues aren’t all that massively serious, and where I’ve seen films where a cheating husband drove the entire film’s plot, here it’s dealt with without dragging things out too much, as the film is far too intent on winning us over than on making us sad.

Director Stephen Frears is pretty much batting 1.000 with me, having made such great movies as High Fidelity, The Queen, and Hero (the best Dustin Hoffman movie nobody seems to have ever seen). This isn’t really one of his best efforts, but I suspect he wouldn’t be able to make a bad movie if he tried. This isn’t one of the most vital films of the year to see, but it’s certainly nicer and more fun than a great deal of those that actually acquired an Academy Award nod.

Rating: ***

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