SHOULD I SEE IT?
For those familiar with the Zellner Brothers unique brand of storytelling, Damsel is a deadpan, serio-comic western that their fans will eat up.
Robert Pattinson is a global treasure and Damsel only proves that point more and more. Plus, he co-stars with a miniature pony named Butterscotch (!).
With definite inspiration from the Coen Brothers, Damsel has a sandpaper-rough wit and sensibility that makes it one of the more unique and clever movies of 2018.
At 113 minutes, Damsel can go long stretches of time with minimal action, and will try some viewers patience with the scattershot activity.
There are more than a handful of people who will watch this movie and simply not get it.
The movie builds to a clever twist and then loses considerable steam afterwards. The second half feels far weaker than its first half.
Recently, I was talking to a fellow film critic friend of mine and we laughed about Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. Not in a bad way mind you, quite the contrary. We were in equal agreement that they are two of the finest actors we have going right now. We just chuckled about Twilight, and did so for a good minute or two.
Neither one of us ever expected that, borne from the days of #TeamEdward and #TeamBella debates, the former super-teen-idol-couple would choose roles that not only pushed them towards challenging and risky projects, but that they seemingly would embrace another popular hashtag when it came to their movie careers: #IDGAF.
Pattinson’s new film, Damsel, is an experience for sure: a parched comedic western from brothers Nathan and David Zellner (Kumiko The Treasure Hunter) that has one outstanding twist midway through, and then becomes a much different film in tone and feel.
Oh and also, Pattinson sings the amazing and bizarre ballad “Honey Bun” at a campfire, which is among my favorite moments captured on screen in 2018.
Pattinson, perfect with a Southern drawl and gold incisor, plays Samuel Alabaster, a cheerful, wistful pioneer who is traveling across the mountains and terrain for a most noble of causes: his fiancée Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) was recently kidnapped and he is coming to rescue her. Knowing he cannot fight this fight alone, he wanders into a saloon (a sight to behold by the way) and eventually connects with Parson Henry (David Zellner), and pays him to travel with him and marry the two when they are reconnected.
Did I mention that Samuel has a miniature pony named Butterscotch?!?!
And at this point, the Zellner Brothers’ twisted, warped take on the western is off and running. Well, not running exactly. To be clear, Damsel is a slow, deliberate movie that will likely excite and bore audiences in equal measure.
On the journey to save Penelope, not only does Samuel sing his wacky tune, but we get a sense of the tender-hearted pastor serving as oil to the water of his fast-talking, hyperbolic employer. The repartee between Pattinson and Zellner is terrific and the jokes and witticisms drip out like the last beads of water from an empty canteen.
And then the movie takes a turn. And to spoil the twist would be to ruin much of what Damsel has stored up for the film’s second half. As the focus shifts over to a different perspective, the Zellners find a burst of energy and enthusiasm which comes at the perfect time.
We should mention here that Damsel is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The intermittent moments of dry humor and violence may simply not prove engaging enough for some viewers who like a little more bang for their buck. Plus, the movie’s shift in tone and story, in the second half, lacks the sizzle the first half does, largely because of a different story the Zellners wish to pursue.
Gorgeously shot by Adam Stone (Take Shelter, Midnight Special), the Zellners have a unique, dare I say, Coen-esque way of telling stories that lend themselves to a little bit of borrowing and a fair amount of inspiration. They put forth great creativity and exuberance for filmmaking, and their love of the medium shines through.
At 113 minutes, the film may run a bit too long, however the performances from all involved, especially Pattinson’s tour de force performance as Samuel, makes this a Damsel well worth pursuing.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Robert Forster, Joseph Billingiere, Gabe Casdorph, Daisy.
Director: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
Written by: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
Release Date: June 22, 2018