Tamara Drewe Stephen Frears

Tamara Drewe Stephen Frears
Based on the acclaimed graphic novel of the same name by Posy Simmonds that started in serialized form, then published in a British newspaper and the Guardian online, Stephen Frears' latest examination of manners and the dichotomy between town and country, Tamara Drewe, upholds his tradition of playful academia, adding the source comic whimsy to interesting effect.

Being two adaptation steps away from Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, strangely filtered through a modern medium of cartoon characters and frank sexual depiction, it's more than the playful British comedy it poses as, working as a study of narrative transformation along with its surface story of writers at a rural, picturesque retreat.

The titular Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) is a bit of a butterfly, having transformed from homely, insecure child into a beautiful, big city journalist after running away from her humble country roots and getting a nose job. Returning home years later, she unknowingly creates quite the stir between childhood flirtation Andy Cobb (Luke Evans), Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper), a famous musician, and the writer's retreat owner and famed crime novelist, Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam). Even Hardiment's wife Beth (Tamsin Greig) comments on Tamara's lack of candour, remarking on her ass spilling out of her shorts.

Her lack of a father figure and inability to match her nascent desirability with a lifetime of aesthetic insecurity aren't lost on anyone, with promiscuity and a generalized lack of self-worth and moral consequence propelling most of the film. It's an interesting protagonist for a tale that's essentially a comedy, but somehow it works, even if no one surrounding her evolves much beyond the animations they're based on.

The American character is constantly eating or crapping, while the big city musician speeds through town in a yellow sports car, blaring music and leaving his dog to run rampant, destroying the peacefulness of the countryside. But they're not intended to be fully realized characters, acting more as ciphers for the awkward juxtaposition of urban and rural morals and values. There's even a pointed remark in the third act of the film about the shift between these worlds being motivated by running towards or from, something reinforced by the two local teenage girls that relentlessly stalk Tamara and her many suitors.

Of course, more obvious than it is an exploration of geographic ideologues, Tamara Drewe is a genuinely funny comedy of misunderstandings and inappropriate social graces. Fantastical daydream inserts and an occasional tendency to break the fourth wall keep a mostly routine, but cleverly written, story vital and invigorating throughout, which alone is worth the price of admission. (Mongrel Media)