Fresh off the heels of starring in the Safdie brothers’ stylish crime drama Good Time, Robert Pattinson finds himself working with another set of director brothers to show off his more comedic side in this wacky western, Damsel.
Trading kooky for cool, Pattinson plays a man desperate to be reacquainted with his one true love, despite the physical – and, as we find out, emotional – distances between them. David and Nathan Zellner, collectively called the Zellner Brothers, bring this light-hearted send-up to the Sundance Film Festival.
Samuel Alabaster (Pattinson) is a man on a mission. With an engagement ring in one hand and a miniature horse on a leash in the other, he’s traveled to a small dusty Western town to enlist the help of Parson Henry (David Zellner), the local pastor and town drunk. While the exact details of the journey remain unclear (or may not yet be fully revealed), Parson is not one to turn down money and agrees to follow Samuel on his mission for monetary compensation. After traveling for days on horseback, which includes an unexpected shootout with natives in the middle of the woods, Samuel finally explains to Parson that he is en route to rescue his fiancé Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) from her evil kidnapper, and afterward marry her, and live happily ever after with her. His feelings of love are expressed more fully in the acoustic lullaby that is one of the film’s funnier moments. The only problem is, once the duo reaches Penelope, it turns out not everyone is on the same page (Penelope mainly) and from here it’s a comedy of errors as Parson tries to piece everything together on his own as things unfold very quickly. No one is safe, no one is certain of what is going on, and no one wants to be where they are.
‘Damsel’ has the structure of a good comedy – its deadpan delivery evokes the humor of Wes Anderson, and its silliness is one whiskey shot away from being another ‘¡Three Amigos!’ or ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West.’
Damsel has the structure of a good comedy – its deadpan delivery evokes the humor of Wes Anderson, and its silliness is one whiskey shot away from being another ¡Three Amigos! or A Million Ways to Die in the West. From the opening sequences, the film shows promise, and Pattinson and Wasikowska’s opening jig number had me laughing the hardest out of any movie moment at Sundance. However, Damsel‘s biggest flaw is that it feels awkwardly split into two very distinct acts: the first being Samuel’s journey up the mountain to find Penelope, and the second being Penelope’s journey back down the mountain to independence, with little-shared overlap in the middle. We initially become so invested in Samuel’s story (who himself is a delightful character) that when the focus and story shifts to Penelope (who unfortunately isn’t as cartoonish a character as Samuel, resigned to only swat away every male’s advances like flies), it’s something of a disappointing end.
Unbalanced story pacing tends to happen in films when the directors are also its actors (Nathan Zellner plays Penelope’s coonskin-cap wearing brother-in-law, Rufus), and Damsel only suffers from this symptom mildly. While there is no denying that Damsel is in a league of its own and that the Zellner brothers have effectively combined modern deadpan comedy with old western tropes to transcend time periods (and the film guarantees laughs every time Butterscotch the miniature horse is seen on screen), the story itself could benefit from a further tightening of scenes and editing of dialogue so that the jokes remain punchy and the story moves one tumbleweed quicker than what’s here. While it’s clear that Penelope may not need help finding her way out of a messy situation, unfortunately, this Damsel could use just a little more saving.
113 minutes. ‘Damsel’ is not yet rated.