DVD: Where's the Love for Tamara Drewe?
You don't have to go to Armond White-ian lengths to be a contrarian; watch enough movies over the course of a year, and at some point you're going to veer away from popular opinion. Whether you love a movie that's roundly despised or completely miss the charms of the feel-good film of the season, it's inevitable that the regular moviegoer will divert from the vox populi. Which brings me to one of my favorite films of 2010, Tamara Drewe (out this week from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment).
The film scored a respectable 65% on Rotten Tomatoes, yes, but it grossed a meager mid-six-figures at the US box office while creating nary a ripple in the culture. This was a movie that pretty much came and went with little discussion -- no one talked about it much either to praise or to condemn it, and it basically disappeared leaving behind few traces that it was ever there.
But now that it's out on DVD, I feel the need to come to the defense of this witty, sexy, and smart little tale of writers and musicians and country folk and their deceptions and seductions in a quaint rural village that's straight out of Thomas Hardy. (And the Hardy references fly fast and furious, with the screenplay -- based on the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds -- making both direct and subtle shout-outs to the author's works, principally Far from the Madding Crowd.)
Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) is an ugly duckling turned swan, with the help of a little rhinoplasty. Now a successful London columnist, Tamara returns to her childhood home following the death of her mother, where she flirts with old flame Andy (Luke Evans), a graphic designer-turned-handyman. But the new Tamara has also caught the eye of Nicholas (Roger Allam) -- a pompous author of airport thrillers who runs a writer's colony out of his house -- as well as slightly dim drummer Ben (Dominic Cooper), a famous lout who wants to marry her, even though he's still stuck on his ex.
Screenwriter Moira Buffini and director Stephen Frears hew closely to Simmonds' charming original, giving us a quirky and hilarious ensemble that includes everyone from the self-obsessed authors living in Nicholas' house to the bored teen girls whose obsession with Ben leads to disaster. But perhaps the most compelling character is Nicholas' wife Beth, who does all the heavy lifting around the house, contributes greatly to her husband's literary output, and constantly looks the other way at his infidelities.
Beth is played by the luminous Tamsin Greig -- who's currently playing another put-upon writer on Showtime's hilarious Episodes -- and it's a performance that probably could have had a shot at Oscar attention had anyone bothered to see this movie. Tamara Drewe doesn't fit easily into the usual categories of British comedy, as it's neither a twee little naughtiness-amongst-the-sheds romp nor is it just clever people exchanging bon mots over scones. Or rather, it's both of those things, but much more as well.
The DVD itself is fairly pared down, with a standard making-of featurette and a sprightly commentary by Arterton and Evans. The highlight is probably a short look at how the film mirrors the original Simmonds comics and how the two diverge.
I know I'm in the minority on this one, but give Tamara Drewe a shot; maybe you'll be a weirdo like me and wind up adoring it.