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.