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Cannes Review: “Tamara Drewe.”

Cannes Review: “Tamara Drewe.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

Sassy, slick, slight and speedy, Stephen Frears’ “Tamara Drewe” explores the same territory as Woody Allen’s similarly out-of-competition “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” — the heart is capricious, and fate is cruel — while skewering both urban pretentions and rural rumor-mongering.

Frears’ adaptation of Posy Simmonds’ highbrow graphic novel kicks off when a writer’s retreat in Dorset is disrupted by the return of the title character (Gemma Arterton) who’s come back from London a newly minted celebrity (with a newly purchased nose) to spiff up and sell the family estate.

Tamara’s just across the fields from the sprawling grounds where best-selling thriller author Nicolas Hardiment (Roger Allam) and his dutiful wife Beth (Tamsin Greig) operate a writer’s retreat, with his infidelities as the simmering subtext to her efforts to make the perfect country estate. Tamara’s ex Andy (Luke Evans) is the Hardiment’s handyman; American academic Glen (Bill Camp) is churning away on his book on Hardy. Local teens Jody (Jessica Barden) and Casey (Charlotte Christie) welcome Tamara’s arrival as a new element in the sleepy town of Ewedown, even as her romance with indie drummer heartthrob Ben (Dominic Cooper) makes Tamara an object of envy and contempt.

05142010_TamaraDrewe2.jpgPosy Simmonds’ original comic strip (which ran in the books section of the Guardian in the U.K. as a soapy, satirical riff on Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd”) is nicely-served by Moira Buffini’s screenplay, which ups the level of vigorous venality as characters willfully and wickedly misbehave.

When her car is egged by Jody and Casey, Beth is more sympathetic than angry: “They’re just bored.” It’s a throwaway line, but it explains much of the motivation for the characters in “Tamara Drewe” — all the private affairs and public embarrassments spring from people lacking restraint not having anything better to do, and small sins set off large recriminations in the final act.

Frears juggles the plot’s elements with a light but firm touch, as we cycle through the seasons and the characters hop from bed to bed. Arterton’s Drewe is a calculated, charismatic careerist (Tamara works as a newspaper columnist, which is as ever movie shorthand for I am a likable narcissist with plenty to learn), but Arterton also conveys the old wounds behind Tamara’s new life and nose. The whole cast is superb, but standouts include Camp’s basically decent academic and Cooper’s overgrown adolescent rocker capable of rhyming “Tamara,” “tiara” and “spaghetti carbonara” as he serenades his new love.

05142010_TamaraDrewe3.jpg While some of the Dorset-accented slang is tricky to follow, the film mostly speaks in the universal languages of regret, remorse, foolishness and failure. “Tamara Drewe” concludes with some lives changed and some lives ended, the fates dispensing punishments and pleasures seemingly at random.

The film could be seen as part of Frears’ long track record with speedy social satire, from “Dangerous Liasons” to “High Fidelity;” it also fits in with his observations of English social mores like “My Beautiful Laundrette” and “The Queen.” “Tamara Drewe” isn’t Frears’ best film, but it’s decidedly his — a very British movie built on universal truths, and a human comedy that stays humane.

“Tamara Drewe” will be released by Sony Pictures Classics later this year.

[Photos: “Tamara Drewe,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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