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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Michael Bodey

COUNT on an un­pre­dictable, iras­ci­ble di­rec­tor such as Stephen Frears to go against the flow. As the cin­ema world was swamped by al­most in­dis­tin­guish­able su­per­heroes leap­ing from the pages of 1960s comic books into the bounty of 21st-cen­tury film and mer­chan­dis­ing fran­chises, Frears took a qui­eter route.

He adapted a comic strip from The Guardian news­pa­per, (M, Road­show, 149min, $32.99). The fic­tional Ta­mara isn’t a su­per­hero al­though she is a news­pa­per jour­nal­ist, so prob­a­bly thinks she is heroic.

In this slight com­edy, Gemma Arter­ton’s Drewe re­turns to her home vil­lage af­ter hav­ing a nose job and a shot of con­fi­dence that makes the for­mer gawky villager some­thing far racier. She be­lieves she will now set male hearts rac­ing and fe­male jeal­ousies pound­ing.

You can see why Frears adapted Posy Sim­monds’s wordy news­pa­per comic strip, which was pub­lished as a graphic novel and adapted by Moira Buffini. It pushes all the but­tons of a twee mod­ern English com­edy, with its ec­cen­tric vil­lagers, lush lo­cales and in­ti­ma­tions of a jolly sex com­edy.

Also, Sim­monds’s work was loosely based on Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel Far From the Madding Crowd, and the film makes a few nods to it, mainly by name (one of the guests at the vil­lage’s writers re­treat is strug­gling to pen a book about Hardy).

It’s all light and fluffy, fit­fully amus­ing with­out be­ing com­pelling partly be­cause Arter­ton’s Ta­mara isn’t par­tic­u­larly well drawn. The film’s wayward, episodic na­ture (as a com­edy comic strip adap­ta­tion was bound to be) is em­pha­sised by two of its fun­ni­est and bet­ter char­ac­ters be­ing pe­riph­eral school­girls (Jessica Bar­den and Char­lotte Christie).

The film isn’t all bad if you close your eyes and think of Lo­cal Hero. Or if you con­trast it with the ro­man­tic come­dies be­ing mass-man­u­fac­tured in the US.

From a di­rec­tor with a stel­lar ca­reer of genre-hop­ping films such as The Grifters, Dan­ger­ous Li­aisons, My Beau­ti­ful Laun­drette, High Fidelity and The Queen, Ta­mara Drewe seems pif­fling. But from an in­dus­try that can’t stop mak­ing the same ro­man­tic come­dies star­ring Jen­nifer Anis­ton or Kather­ine Heigl, this film is a step up.

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