Tamara Drewe (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

 The film never settles on a consistent tone and induces a sort of seasickness in the viewer as it lurches from drama to farce to BBC heritage television and back again.

Tamara Drewe is not a terrible movie—in fact it can be positively entertaining at times—but it certainly is a disappointing product coming from Stephen Frears, the man who has directed such superb films as Dirty Pretty Things, Prick Up Your Ears and My Beautiful Laundrette. This time around Frears has given us a tittering sex comedy of the kind I thought had gone out of style in the 1960s. Worse, the film never settles on a consistent tone and induces a sort of seasickness in the viewer as it lurches from drama to farce to BBC heritage television and back again. More than anything it looks like the pilot for a television series stretched to almost two hours and provided with a healthy cinematography budget, but not much in the way of a script.
Tamara Drewe is based on Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel of the same name, which is a loose adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. Tamara (Gemma Arterton) takes on the role of Bathsheba Everdene. The film is set in the impossibly beautiful Dorset countryside (never has England’s land seemed greener or more pleasant) and populated with the usual cast of characters including a handsome rustic, a full-of-himself writer and two bratty schoolgirls who provide much of the fun to be had.
As a child, it seems, Tamara had an enormous nose that hampered her ability to—oh I don’t know, have all the men in the county chasing after her? It’s hard to say because it’s still not clear what Tamara wants. She’s become a successful journalist and got the nose fixed, and while the former doesn’t excite much notice when she returns to her ancestral home in the fictional village of Ewedon the latter certainly does, particularly when accompanied by the shortest pair of shorts ever seen outside of a porno film.
A writer’s retreat operates on the neighboring farm and provides plenty of chances to skewer the pretensions of those who ply the literary trade or have aspirations in that direction. Unfortunately these characters are mostly treated as one-off gags (which in truth aren’t all that funny). The exceptions are successful mystery writer and serial philanderer Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam), his long-suffering and remarkably competent wife Beth (Tamsin Greig) and the doofus American academic Glen McCreavy (Bill Camp, looking something like a larger version of Bob Balaban) who is writing, most appropriately, a book of criticism on Thomas Hardy.
Also in the mix are the ruggedly handsome handyman Andy Cobb (Luke Evans); two teenage girls (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie) who spend their days egging cars, perusing tabloids and breaking into other people’s email accounts; and the ruggedly handsome if painfully stereotypical rock drummer Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper), who sets several hearts aflutter. As does Tamara, of course. This is one of those movies that believes that there’s nothing funnier than the sight of ordinary people indulging their carnal appetites.
From time to time Tamara Drewe is amusing and the acting crew does a fine job given the limited material they are working with, but on the whole there are many better ways to spend your time. Reading the original graphic novel comes to mind, for instance. | Sarah Boslaugh

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