Everything within Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel is a winning combination: an ugly duckling (Tamara Drewe) returning home an absolute hottie, a studly ex-flame who’s fallen from financial grace, weary townsfolk with their own little secrets, and a writers’ retreat where fertile imaginations run amuck. Add a rocker, teeny bopper fan-girls, and Tamara unleashing the power of juvenile jealousy, and you get a mélange of story threads that converge into an exposure of disruptive secrets, with at least one happy ending.
The problem with Moira Buffini’s film adaptation is it an attempt to provide aspects of everything within a 2-hour running time, and what’s ultimately onscreen are flat characters who could’ve benefitted from deeper scenes had the first third not been expressly focused on the writer’s retreat run by a philandering best-selling author (deliciously snotty Roger Allam), and the guests who have no purpose in the film beyond location décor.
The exception is Yankee author Glen (Bill Camp), who hangs around through the seasons without much of an explanation from the filmmakers, except perhaps he’s a long-term guest, renting space for a year to finish his book on Thomas Hardy.
That loss of time is significant, because it ensures the film’s titular character never develops beyond a tarty wench intent on using her past pain and pre-nose job history for a new book. Tamara happens to be a journalist – apparently in tight with the music industry – and it’s while covering a concert with a hot band (the fictional Swipe) that she falls for, beds, rapidly becomes engaged to, and heads back to London with drummer / primary writer Ben (a tight little pretentious twit, as portrayed by Dominic Cooper).
Tamara’s relationship with Ben begins with a smash-cut, and that’s how their romance, etc. are dramatized and edited, but once Tamara accepts his lazy wedding proposal, she becomes as superficial as Ben, making their strained relationship exceptionally dull.
Gemma Arterton tries to give Tamara as many dimensions as possible within her flat scenes (adding some backside nudity now and then), but she can’t bring life to a cartoon character that’s introduced with Britcom wit, teased with cruelty by Ben’s teen fans, and is later affected by the sudden tragedy of neighbour.
On paper, the story may have worked – leaving the reader’s impressions to vivify any of the author’s shortcomings – but the film adaptation lacks needed depth to make the mood changes affecting. Frears’ decision to have Alexandre Desplat stick to one theme with little variation may function as the film’s comedic motor, bit it’s also indicative of several key creative missteps; it’s a luscious production, but it unfolds like a familiar British comedy of rudeness and missed manners, albeit elongated beyond its natural length.
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan