Tamara Drewe is a frothy sex comedy that takes place in the fictional village of Ewedown, where there are only about twelve inhabitants, plenty of livestock, no shops, and of course, a pub. Based on Posy Simmonds’ comic strip of the same name, Stephen Frears’ adaptation takes its cheeky comic cues from Ben Elton and Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Maybe Baby et al). The film’s blustery sexual mishaps and misunderstandings become a bit too cute as the film chugs to its 111th minute; not even a comically violent twist in the final act could resuscitate interest. A shame the film doesn’t commit fully like its brothers in the “village with a secret” subgenre (including The Wicker Man, The White Ribbon, and Children of the Corn). Now that would be a unique romantic comedy.
Gemma Arterton stars as the eponymous Tammy. She’s a newspaper columnist who returns to her hometown of Ewedown to restore her late mother’s country estate and sell it off once and for all. She interrupts a writers’ retreat across the valley, hosted by famed crime author and philanderer Nicholas (Roger Allam) and his ever-suspicious but always-committed wife Beth (Tamsin Greig). Strolling around the farm in her short-shorts, Tamara proves to be both a muse to some (including the adoring handyman Andy played by Luke Evans and rocker boyfriend Ben Sergeant played by Dominic Cooper) and a distraction to others (especially Nicholas). Many of the villagers agree she is a bad influence, and a couple of string-pulling teenagers (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie) attempt to ruin her life.
Of course, what I have provided in that plot synopsis has been pieced together from quite a number of loose strands and disconnected subplots. Tamara Drewe very much feels like it has come from a newspaper comic strip (or perhaps even more damningly, a TV soap opera); one which was never expected to actually conclude. It meanders along, and we never get the sense that anything is building upon anything else. When the inevitable romantic conclusion arrives, it feels more like a copout than a cathartic release.
Arterton is fun to watch as Tamara Drewe, but it seems like we are always – and only – watching her. The characters talk about her, and talk to her, but we never really get a sense of who she is or what she wants. Evans is charming; Cooper’s funny; Allam is perfectly greasy; Grieg is wonderfully wound; Barden and Christie are the brightest sparks as the cheeky teenage rabble-rousers. The film looks lovely, and Frears still knows how to make a bunch of people talking (be it writers, politicians or record enthusiasts) seem bubbly and engaging. But in the end, the film is merely pleasant, when it should be naughty fun. And now I have to stop writing this review because I actually typed the phrase “naughty fun”.
Tamara Drewe opens February 3rd, 2011 across Australia.