Starring Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Robert Forster, Nathan Zellner
It’s been four years since The Zellner Brothers delivered the oddity known as “Kumiko.” The filmmaking duo co-directed, wrote and star in their latest, “Damsel,” which is both a modern interpretation of and a spoof of the classic western. “Shitty in new and fascinating ways,” we hear in the opening sequence. “Damsel” is less of a comedy and more of a sarcastic drama as the original screenplay catches the viewer off guard more than a few times with its misdirection. Pattinson (“Good Time”) has never been better or more stupidly cavalier. He masters the drawl of the era so well, you will find yourself silently mouthing some of the words he says, “I’m just reg-lur.” What starts off as a seemingly insurmountable film falls apart half-way through, when the best thing about the story disappears.
Samuel Alabaster (Pattinson) has arrived on the shores of the West Coast where he has arranged to meet a preacher, Parson Henry (David Zellner). The preacher is a drunk, but Samuel needs him. The two men head into the wilderness where Samuel intends to rescue and propose to his fiancée Penelope (Wasikowska), hence the need for the preacher. Armed with his gun and his determination, Samuel also brings along a miniature horse named Butterscotch. “She’s a conversation piece,” he boasts. He’s even written a song called “Honeybun,” which he sings to the preacher. When the two arrive at a small cabin that doesn’t look at all hostile, with clothes drying on the line, and smoke billowing out of the chimney, Henry realizes things are not at all what he has been led to believe.
Pattinson has never been better or more stupidly cavalier.
“Damsel” starts with Robert Forester (“The Descendants”) doing exactly what he does best, playing a grumpy old curmudgeon. He barks on about life and it’s disappointments, getting more angry by the second. The dialogue is as creative and provoking as it is hilarious. You don’t realize it at the time, but this scene sets up everything that follows in “Damsel.” Pattinson’s “Twilight” days are long behind him. It’s difficult to even imagine him in the teen romance franchise now because he has developed into such a diverse actor. Everything that works well about this film, happens in the first hour, and on Pattinson’s shoulders. Wasikowska’s character is far less interesting, but unpredictable and probably the strongest character in the story.
Similar to the structure of “Kumiko,” “Damsel” starts out with unusual and captivating circumstances, only to back itself into a corner it can’t get out of narratively. What was funny and noteworthy in the beginning, becomes tiresome and relentless over time. The first half of the film has many characters, with Pattinson’s Samuel charming nearly all of them, intentionally or not. The witty sarcasm of the first half is less notable though when Wasikowska’s no-nonsense Penelope takes center stage in the second half of the film. The movie is called “Damsel,” because Penelope is constantly being offered rescue or marriage proposals, something she wants nothing to do with. The Zellner Brothers trade-in sarcasm and wit for irony and seriousness in the second half, that just wasn’t as much fun.
Half the movie is really good…