Tamara Drewe is a romantic comedy (Stephen Frears thought we needed one more) set in the English countryside among stone walls, cattle fields, and beautiful, green vistas. The story takes place over a year, and is conveniently divided into seasons. The action is centralized around the house of Nicholas Hardiment, a well-published author where a writer’s retreat is taking place. The famous author’s wife watches over the house and serves the guests with the occasional help of a couple of teenage girls, which end up to be much major players in the story. Nearby, is the bus stop where we often see the two girls talk about their budding chests, kissing, and rock star fantasies while smoking and flipping through magazines.
Across a couple of fields from the handful of wine-drinking keyboard pounding authors, is the childhood house of our main character, Tamara Drewe, which she’s just come back into town to reclaim and make her own now that she’s all grown up. She’d left the area, found herself, got hot, got a nose job, and wants to pursue some serious writing. She makes quite a re-entrance into town wearing short shorts and looking like a streamlined version of her former self. From then on, three men can’t help but fall over themselves to get to her: Andy, ex-boyfriend and grounds keeper, cheating husband Nicholas Hardiment, and rock star Ben Sargeant.
The men do a pretty good job making fools of themselves over her, and therein lies most of the humor in this romantic comedy. And it seems that no one can make a fool of Tamara until two boy-crazy teenage girls cross her path, meddling in her life in order to get to the rockstar boyfriend of hers that they have a crush on. Some of the best and most honest humor comes from these two young characters, Jody and her friend. This is also when we experience a little old-world-meets-new world theme when we are briefly away from the countryside to a rock n’ roll venue where we are introduced to Ben, and it adds another layer to Tamara Drewe that is added value.
The film succeeds in being funny at times for a few situations and juxtapositions, but mostly for some very well-placed dialogue. With the story revolving around a writers retreat with some very amusing voice-overs of the characters’ thoughts, it seems the dialogue is self-aware, and a little pompous, but forgivable just for that reason. “I don’t like cows. They exude bovine malice,” for example. The same character in another scene announces that he needs to take a dump.
Although somewhat successfully funny, this film has a darker side as it constantly reminds how futile marriage and long term commitment is. Disappointment in relationships hits the young and old as Beth, faithful wife to Nicholas Hardiment is cheated on, and Tamara in her prime finds that the giant ring she wears from Ben was purchased for another woman. The end of the film leaves us with a tragic death that is ironic and even odd, but not funny. Thankfully, themes like these allow the film and characters to stay authentic through their disappointment instead of simply flat, one sided archetypes although you won’t find them deviate much.
Tamara Drewe does not consistently deliver, but it has some moments that shine. The slow build of the relationship between Beth, the longsuffering wife, and Glenn, the “losers’ loser” finds one accepting the budding feelings and allows an outlet for the audiences’ growing empathy for her. And Jody, the teenager that stalks Ben (Tamara’s rocker fiance) is part of a couple of the best scenes of the film: a couple of fantasy scenes that are well-played and well-placed among the rest of the story. Flashbacks to Tamara’s old school days where she wears an obvious prosthetic nose are another treat.
The film ain’t all bad—not at all. It’s not something to get excited over, however. It drags a little bit, and and is lacking in a couple of details: like the fact that Dominic Cooper is too old to play a believable 25 year old rocker as well as the story line of Jody breaking in and originating a few fake emails from Tamara’s account to stir trouble reeks a little too much of My Best Friend’s Wedding.
Still, one of the main characters is scared of cows. And it’s a few details like that that give Tamara Drewe a lovability of its own. It’s not a total loss.