Movie Review: “Tamara Drewe”

“Voluptuous” doesn’t quite do the Gemma Arterton justice. It leaves out her voluminous hair, her perma-pout and those eyes so dark no cinematographer seems able to coax color from them.

And “overripe” seems a tad mean.

No sense mincing around objectifying her, because heaven knows filmmakers never do.  Her “come hither look” is the closest thing the big screen has to a heavy-duty dose of Viagra.

Arterton, one-time Bond girl, object of the lust of a “Prince of Persia,” is put on glorious display in the title role Stephen Frears’ “Tamara Drewe,” based on a Posy Simmonds graphic novel. Arterton’s Tamara is lust incarnate, something of a muse to some, an awful bother to others, playing a big city journalist who returns to her home village and stirs things up.

Oh if only there’d been more stirring. There might have been had this dark, uneven riff on writers, the bucolic English countryside, sexual awakening and infidelity ever found its heart. Whatever its pleasures, there’s little joy and not much romp in this cluttered sex farce.

Tamara comes home to fix up the run-down family farm where she grew up. When she left, she was “Duck Nose,” a duckling not yet a swan, but certainly hot enough to lose her virginity (in a flashback) with the hunky farmhand Andy (Luke Evans). Andy, whose family money went away before Tamara did, dumped her. And with her new nose and a pair of Daisy Duke too-short shorts, he’s having second thoughts.

He works at a bed and breakfast writer’s retreat owned by the very successful, boorishly arrogant  Nicholas, played by Roger Allam (quite good). He writes “airport fodder, really,” “pandering” crime novels that pay the bills while his editor/cook/business manager wife Beth (Tamsin Greig) takes care of everything else. Naturally, he cheats on her.

Assorted writers come to share the retreat, among them a dull American academic (Bill Camp, dull in the part).

Tamara flirts Andy into fixing up the house while she dashes off to interview and fall into the sack with Ben, a hotheaded rock drummer (Dominic Cooper). Best scene? Ben uses chopsticks as drumsticks, rapping on every item in Tamara’s kitchen as a prelude to a seduction.

Frears and his screenwriter amble through four indistinct seasons of the year in this rural Peyton Place, telling much of the story through a foul-mouthed Brit chorus — two rude, smoking, drinking 15 years old played with thick-accented verve by Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie. They curse “D-list” (Nicholas) and “Plastic” (Tamara), toss eggs on cars, break into email accounts and make mischief in this too-settled world they’re stuck in.

Frears finds the occasional amusing scene. The film serves up a little sex. But we don’t sense any romantic ache between Tamara and Ben, Andy or anybody. Is she meant to be a callous manipulator, a resentful female author’s idea of the pretty girl who gets all she wants?

Or is the movie just tone deaf? Funny peripheral characters are introduced and abandoned. The idea of Tamara as “muse” for besotted writers is trotted out and forgotten.

While we may ogle Tamara, blush at her charms and revel in her world, in the end “Tarama Drewe” is just a bit of Brit tease that doesn’t come off.

Cast: Gemma Arterton, Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Roger Allam

Director: Stephen Frears

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes

Rating:  R for language and some sexuality.

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