Tamara Drewe a literary comedy with a British inflection
"Tamara Drewe" is a witty Brit lit meta-comedy in the manner of "Bridget Jones's Diary."
Adapted from a graphic novel that was itself inspired by Thomas Hardy's "Far from the Madding Crowd," the movie is set at a sleepy rural writers' retreat that awakens with intrigue when a local girl returns with a transformative rhinoplasty and a nose for mischief.
When Tamara (Gemma Arterton) left she was Jennifer Grey circa "Dirty Dancing;" when she returned, she was the Jennifer Grey of "It's Like, You Know."
But instead of her own sitcom, Tamara, also enhanced by a pair of Daisy Dukes, gets the slavering attention of every male in the community, including the strapping farmhand (Luke Evans) who once bedded and dumped her, and the lecherous mystery writer (Roger Allam) who once rejected and insulted her.
Tamara intends to make these men amorous and jealous, and so drags along a famous/infamous rock star for shagging and bragging. It works, and soon the writers are in comical chaos.
Director Stephen Frears does a nice job sorting and defining the supporting cast, including the mystery writer's put-upon wife (Tamsin Greg), and the nerdy American Hardy biographer (Bill Camp, apparently filling in for Paul Giamatti) who's falling in love with Tamara.
"Tamara Drewe" is the quintessential British comedy. Dry wit, nimble characterization, and a certain cheekiness - it satirizes the writers in residence by showing how they aspire to achieve status in a literary world that no longer matters.
The movie's funniest invention is a pair of foulmouthed teen girls devoted to pop-culture bottom fishing, wasting away (as they see it) in a community populated by mere writers.
When Tamara drags her drummer boyfriend to town, the girls go crazy, and their efforts to contrive a chance meeting with the star account for the movies' funniest bits and its liveliest performances.
Arterton's getting all the attention, but the real scene-stealer in the movie is Jessica Barden as the starstruck girl whose scheme to foist herself on the rock star causes all manner of trouble.
She's a hoot, and when she suddenly emerges from caricature at movie's end to show real dimension and emotion, the movie peaks.
It's a degree of humanity "Tamara Drewe" doesn't allow some of its other characters, who are literally trampled by an ending that squanders some of the promise of the first two acts.
All an all, though, Frears movie can be judged a success. By a nose.