Voluptuous doesn't quite do star 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, onetime Bond girl and object of lust in Prince of Persia, is put on glorious display in the title role of 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.
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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 too-short shorts, she makes him have second thoughts.
He works at a bed-and-breakfast writer's retreat owned by the 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, who is 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 hot-headed 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 teens 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 e-mail 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, Tamara and 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.
We might ogle Tamara, blush at her charms and revel in her world, but in the end, Tamara Drewe is just a bit of Brit tease that doesn't come off.