Damsel: A Wild West We Haven't Quite Seen Before
Damsel comes out of the genre-bending minds of writer/directors (and frequents actors in their own films) David and Nathan Zellner, who set out to deliver a western the likes of which we haven't quite seen before.
Overflowing with subversion, Damsel tells the story of Samuel Alabaster (played by Robert Pattinson), an affluent pioneer, as he ventures across the American Frontier to marry the love of his life, Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), and seeks to blur the line between the traditional hero, villain and (most importantly) damsel. But is it successful, or is it simply too subversive for its own good?
The first thing that is immediately apparent about Damsel is that its ripe with some absolutely gorgeous cinematography, particularly that of the Oregon coast, which is majestically shrouded in a layer of fog. The second thing that is apparent is that the film is going to look (and even feel) like a western, but it's going to, for better or worse, narratively wander down untrodden territory.
As Robert Forster so eloquently puts it in the opening scene that , "Things are going to get shitty in new and fascinating ways." And depending on your personal preferences, that line may just be a perfectly encapsulating thesis for the film. However, to me, there's a lot of good here, specifically in the first portion of the film, and its comedic qualities shine brightly, but wind up getting buried in the film's long-winded meander.
The film is bifurcated connected by a through line involving a drunkard masquerading as a preacher (played by David Zellner), with our two leads only sharing 5-10 minutes of screen time, which is not at all what appears to be advertised in the trailers. This may be a good or bad thing, again depending on your preferences. However, it's fairly inarguably that the latter half of the film loses loads of momentum, essentially hitting a reset button and beginning a whole new film, and while Wasikowska gives a solid performance, she is eclipsed by Pattinson, who continues to show new shades and has his comedic game on point.
There are a lot of surprises along the nearly two hour journey, some delightful and others that are just head-scratching odd, and I certainly respect the Zellner brothers for their audacity and ambition for wanting to turn the traditional western roles on their ear, but Damsel doesn't always have legs to stand on, but when it finds its footing, it produces some purely delightful rip-roaring comedic gold.
The film mainly suffers from its verbose runtime and the fact that it beats you over the head with the same idea until you just want to scream, "OK, I get it!" But there's also a miniature pony, and who doesn't love those?
Rating 3 miniature ponies outta 5.
What did you think of the film? Was it too subversive for its own good? Did the comedy land for you? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!