$12.00 ticket on a scale of $0 to $13.50.
“Tamara Drewe” may be the funniest picture of 2010. It is what Woody Allen’s recent “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” could have been if Allen had got it right. (In the interest of full disclosure, your critic is a Woody Allen fan, and his most recent pic is the first disappointment in a long, storied career.)
Helmed by Stephen Frears , pic barely betrays that it is based on a graphic novel — in this case Posy Simmonds’ eponymous storyboard, which, in turn, is based on the eponymous comic strip in British newspaper, The Guardian. That’s a good thing. The mania to make movies from graphic novels has gone far enough. Too many of them look like comic book frames thrown onto the screen. To its credit, “Tamara Drewe” looks like a movie — albeit broadly acted.
Every generation seems to think that it has invented a genre. In film, there is nothing new. Alfred Hitchcock laboriously made storyboards for every shot in each one of his pics. And a comic strip is really an ongoing storyboard. The “graphic novel” is nothing more than a long comic book, in other words both a novel-length comic and a film storyboard.
The ingredients are simple: Popular detective-fiction novelist Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) runs a writers’ retreat on a farm in rural England with wife Beth (Tamsin Greig). She is his secretary, editor, reader — you name it — and she also runs the farm and does the cooking. He writes prolifically in longhand. She types his manuscripts. He also cheats on her with every righteous piece of tail that comes his way. It’s sort of the Mt. Everest theory of adultery: Wife: “Why did you do her?” Husband: “Because you let me.” Add a brace of writers including academic Glen McCreavy (Bill Camp), who suffers from constipation as well as writer’s block, ruined young ex-landowner Andy Cobb (Luke Evans) now working as a farmhand and handyman for Beth, whom he credits for saving his life, rock star Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper) lusted after by a couple of prankish teenage girls (Jody Long played by Jessica Barden and Casey Shaw played by Charlotte Christie in her acting debut), a herd of cattle prone to stampedes, a dog named “Boss” who is Ben’s closest friend and who has a tendency to annoy cattle, a cattle owner who is a crack shot (Cheryl Campbell), camera phones, and email. Throw into mix the impossibly stunning Gemma Arterton in the title role and stir.
Now add a backstory: Tamara Drewe, now a writer, was a bit of an ugly duckling as a teenager — until she had her nose bobbed. She also had the hots for Hardiment (who laughed at her) and for Andy, with whom she had a torrid teenage affair until he called her “Beeky” in an argument. She lived in the house where Andy was born, which his family lost in hard times. Now a columnist for the Independent, she returns to the country town to sell the house after her mother’s death.
The two pranksters, who have nothing better to do, upset the best laid plans of men and smoking hot Tamara. They wreck her relationship with rock star Ben (whom she meets on an interview assignment), expose her affair with Hardiment to his wife, and in a chain of unintended consequences, stampede a herd of cattle, creating pic’s sole corpse.
The only dangling participle in this tale is “What the heck does Tamara see in Hardiment?” He’s middle aged, full of himself, a liar and a cheat, and not very good looking. Maybe it’s the writing. She values his professional opinion. Ben, the rock star, also suffers from the same affliction. Auds will look for a Hollywood ending in a rekindling of Tamara’s teenage romance with Andy — or perhaps a reconciliation with Ben — but aside from the few hints needed for dramatic tension, all the evidence points against either. As Woody Allen’s narrator in “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” paraphrases Shakespeare, “Life is full of sound and fury which in the end signify nothing.” Frears just did a funnier job of signifying nothing. In that regard, pic functions as a sort of feature length “Seinfeld” episode.
Frears admittedly had a storyboard to shoot in the form of a graphic novel, but that does not diminish his achievement. Even its only death scene is funny. Moira Buffini’s screenplay reveals a good sense of the ridiculous. Frears has a firm hand, a good sense of timing, and editor Mick Audsley cuts with a cold machete. Pic’s 111 minutes virtually fly by. Casting is spot on. Ben Davis’ shooting leaves little to be desired. Technically, the only knock against “Tamara Drewe” is sound recording. Some thick English accents could use subtitles for American auds.
“Tamara Drewe” is rated R for sex, language, and some nudity — mostly in the welcome form of Gemma Arterton. None of it is offensive, but pre-teens may not get it. Your critic would have given it a PG-13. Teenagers will get it and laugh at it.
Tamara Drewe on Netflix