Tamara Drewe 2010 US
Directed by Stephen Frears
Screening at UK cinemas now
Tamara Drewe is another in a long line of inaccurately credited (they just flat out lie to you) movies which claim to be based on a graphic novel. Anyone here know what a graphic novel is? Because it’s obvious that the people who do the credits of a lot of these comic strip based movies have no idea at all! Tamara Drewe is actually based on a comic strip which ran in The Guardian. It is not a graphic novel. A graphic novel is a totally original work which is written and drawn to be presented in a book format. Tamara Drewe was a strip which was later published as a trade paperback. A trade paperback is a reprinting of a comic strip which is shoehorned (quite badly sometimes when dealing with strips which weren’t designed to be read in that format) into a book format. First and foremost though, it’s a cartoon strip. Seriously, movie producers need to get into the habit of not calling everything with drawings and bubbles a graphic novel just because they think it’s a more sophisticated euphemism for comic book... it isn’t.
This film is actually a strange movie to get a handle on. I’m reliably informed that the comic is an updating of Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd, but since I’ve not actually read any of Hardy’s work I’ll have to pass on whether or not it’s a respectful take on his original. Trying to classify this movie as anything other than a stew of ingredients which hang together in a nicely British way might be a fools errand but I’ll give it a go. It doesn’t really have much of a storyline (not a problem, I love movies without stories or any kind of plot) and although the fly-on-the-wall views of the inhabitants of a small, rural English village which comprise the film may seem to be random and fleeting glances at best, there is a linear thread which ties it all together eventually... it’s just that the story just doesn’t have enough substance to actually bother tying it all up to be honest.
Tamara is a reporter who’s inherited a house in the village she grew up in from her dead parents and stays on a while to oversee repairs to get it on the market and possibly try to get together with her old flame who dumped her years before because of her unsightly nose. She’s had a nose job now (and afterwards, amazingly looks just like Gemma Arterton not wearing a prosthetic) but she kind of gets sidetracked on the “true love” end of things by having affairs with two of the other characters instead. One of these is the famous author husband of a woman who runs a writer’s retreat in the village and the sub-plot of this woman’s put upon life and the tentative steps towards pulling herself out of that life (and the agonising first steps towards love with her from one of her writer guests) is actually much more interesting than the main narrative thrust of the movie. It’s certainly where the heart of the audience lies anyway, judging from the reactions I observed in the crowd around me, which was a mostly female audience aged between 30-50 from what I could see (Note to self: future dating chances improve if you go to see more movies like Tamara Drewe... if you can figure out what a movie like Tamara Drewe actually is). Throw a couple of “meddling kids” into the mix to cause mayhem to everyones life because of a crush on a rock star Tamara is “seeing” for most of the movie, and that’s about all you have in the this cool collection of sketches of rural relations.
What I’ve not said here is that the movie has a lot of heart and some excellent performances, not least from Gemma Arterton playing the titular character (I’m resisting the urge, I promise). She’s been getting a lot of acting gigs lately and rightly so... she’s pretty good and could have carried the film really well if the emphasis of the script had been just a little more on her character.
I’m sad to say I don’t remember much about the score and was absolutely gobsmacked when I found out, via the end credits, that it was composed by Alexandre Desplat. He’s a composer I look forward to hearing but nothing about this particular score stood out enough to crack me over the head with a hefty, golden treble clef like his scores for The Girl With A Pearl Earring and Birth did. That being said I shall probably pick up the soundtrack anyway and explore the richness of Desplat’s smooth notes as a stand alone listen because there’s something about this French composer's scores that usually linger in the memory long after the film or CD has played out. Maybe I need to hear the mix of it on the album to get a better handle on it.
I think Tamara Drewe is actually only the second film I’ve seen directed by Stephen Frears, the other being his Dirty Pretty Things. Like Dirty Pretty Things, I really enjoyed this new movie but it has to be said that it’s not something I could really ever rewatch. Despite my own reluctance for repeat viewing, however, I would certainly recommend this one because it’s quite funny in places (gently so) and because British films need your support. Go catch it before it’s gone!