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Monday, March 28, 2011

Tamara Drewe

Tamara Drewe is a charming film from British director Stephen Frears. Through its clever multi-focused structure, it manages to overcome a dark, improbable turn in its concluding act and remain a lively, intelligent film.

Gemma Arterton is the title character, but far from the main focus of the story. Tamara is a young newspaper columnist returning to her hometown after her mother’s death. Tamara has had a nose job since she was last seen in town, and it is a marked improvement. (In flashbacks Arterton wears a comedically large beak.)

Tamara’s new confidence makes her irresistible to the men of the town, including an adulterous mystery novelist who runs a writer’s retreat with his wife, a rock star idolized by two local teenagers, and her old boyfriend, whom she has hired to renovate her house.

The plot revolves around an awful lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications, but it hums along quite nicely. The two teenagers mention above, Jody and Casey, act as largely unseen interlopers, as their obsession with Tamara’s rock star lover has some disastrous consequences.

There are some great performances, too. Arterton doesn’t really have much to do besides look good in short-shorts (and she does) but she hits her few dramatic moments convincingly. Roger Allam is quite good as the unfaithful novelist, and Tamsin Grieg is even better as the wife stricken by her knowledge of his affairs. There are fine supporting roles, comedic and dramatic, filled out by the writers attending the retreat.

The movie takes a shockingly dark turn near the end and follows through on it by showing its flawed characters behaving in some morally dubious ways. This commitment to realism in character overcomes the slight silliness of the climax.

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