"Tamara Drewe" is an amusing British sex/romantic comedy that was little noticed when it came out in theaters. Too bad because, while the film is a bit uneven, it shows what the American version of the genre sorely lacks - sass and panache.
Its title character heroine, a newspaper columnist played with style by Gemma Arterton, returns to her hometown, a sleepy English village after having a nose job. The place has become a writers retreat/farm. The townsmen finally can look past her proboscis and to those tight, high-cut shorts she so tantalizingly fills out.
Well, there is one who knew of Tamara's delights when she was young, a farmhand (Luke Evans), and he is anxious to renew her acquaintance.
But the lass is more worldly now. A rock star (Dominic Cooper) she has interviewed pursues her. Then she has some unfinished business with a pretentious, leering mystery writer (Roger Allam), who once rejected her overtures.
Never mind his long-suffering wife, Beth, played by Tamsin Greig from Showtime's brilliant comedy "Episodes." She, too, oddly, is the object of desire of a dour American academic (Bill Camp) drowning in his latest project, a book about Thomas Hardy. The English novelist - who we learn in the film was a randy fellow - is a bit of an inside joke. The film is based on a Posy Simmonds graphic novel, which in turn is loosely based on a fanciful adaptation of Hardy's 1874 novel "Far From the Madding Crowd."
The rock star's arrival stirs more fun into the story in the form of two schoolgirls (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie), who out of boredom and teenage lust create their own mischief, like fairies from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" only in a twisted high-tech way.
Directed by Stephen Frears ("The Queen," "High Fidelity," "Dangerous Liaisons") and written by Moira Buffini, "Tamara Drewe" may seem disjointed at times - it does have some strange, even dark, turns for a comedy - but its willingness to be unexpected is part of what keeps it interesting. And it's always smart - never insulting your intelligence - unlike the two American romantic comedies also out this week, the dreary "Life as We Know It," with Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel, and the unaptly titled "The Romantics," with Katie Holmes and Duhamel.