Movies don’t have to mimic their settings. Space is pretty desolate, but most films featuring the final frontier don’t waste half their running time slowly inching through the black. When it comes to westerns however, you can’t move for long takes of horses picking their way across the desert. Damsel falls prey to this trait, even as it hints at a Wild West teeming with activity.
Local drunks guffawing in the saloon, crowds gathering to hang a ruffian – it’s all here amid the meandering silences, and the first half happily potters along as an affable pastoral yarn. It’s all pleasant enough, but thankfully the Zellner brothers shake things up for a more intriguing – and amusing – second act. Overall Damsel is curiously divided, particularly in where it mines its humour, awkwardly flitting between crass easy laughs and flashes of verbal intricacy.
Robert Pattinson sinks and slinks into his role with ease, endearing and entitled, principled and petulant in equal measure. He’s charming, he’s lovable – he’s a nice guy. Further “gentlemen” follow in his wake, not least the endlessly pathetic Parson Henry, played to quivering perfection by co-director David Zellner. Opposite this cacophony of sycophantic gallantry, Mia Wasikowska shines, although it’s unfortunate that this narrative limits her to playing second fiddle against these enfeebled and ridiculous men. In truth, this Wild West is more appropriately titled the Mild West, for all the “nice guys” that wander its dirt roads, looking for women in need of “saving”.
Damsel’s first half is rooted in familiar tales of old, gallant heroes and waifish maidens; its second is a thoroughly 21st-century story. During this tricky balancing act, the film’s message is muddled in the fray, although thankfully a slew of excellent performances carries the film through its most tenuous moments.
CAST: Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Joseph Billingiere, David Wingo
DIRECTOR: David Zellner
WRITERS: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
SYNOPSIS: Samuel Alabaster, an affluent pioneer, ventures across the American frontier to marry the love of his life, Penelope. He traverses the Wild West with a drunkard and a miniature horse named Butterscotch; however, their once-simple journey grows treacherous, and soon the lines between heroes, damsels and villains are blurred.[TRAILER FORTHCOMING]