June 21st, 2018
STARRING: ROBERT PATTINSON; MIA WASIKOWSKA; DAVID ZELLNER; NATHAN ZELLNER; ROBERT FORSTER
DIRECTED BY: DAVID ZELLNER; NATHAN ZELLNER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
Nobody should be waiting for their knight in shining armor. That’s the lesson learned from Damsel, a western that turns the audience in a different direction as soon as anything gets too comfortable. This is a comedy of errors and ignorance, the newest venture from the Zellner brothers, who became noticed for their Sundance award winner, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter in 2016. Instead of banking off of their success, the Zellner’s have fun with running away from what is expected of them. Damsel has two of the acting professions best, with Robert Pattinson as a lonely cowboy in search of his darling dame, played by Mia Wasikowska. The journey to retrieve his love is paved with rocks, hills, and stupidity. Damsel is a different kind of comedy, a unique tale that flips the traditional hero’s journey on it’s head.
When we think of westerns we have images of the rebellious cowboy, rolling into a little town, with his guns ready to draw. Anyone who is aware of the common tropes from countless Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone, or John Ford westerns will be pleasantly surprised that Damsel looks like the work of those auteurs. Samuel (Pattinson) is ready to save his true-love, bearing the gift an adorable miniature horse named butterscotch. He saunters into town on his horse and a smaller horse at his side, looking to acquire the services of Parson Henry (David Zellner), so he can rescue his girl from a brute named Rufus Cornell (Nathan Zellner), and marry his lovely honey-bun- Penelope (Wasikowska). But what if she just doesn’t need saving? Then all this macho stuff would be for nothing. By the end of Damsel, that’s the point.
On the surface, Damsel is a standard independent comedy, poking fun at westerns the way Blazing Saddles did, but what it evolves into is a film about female empowerment. The Zellner brothers are craftsmen, building films from the ground up. The perfection of the sets, costumes, and cinematography from Adam Sone make the characters look better on the outside, while they never live up to their expectations. I compare the narrative to a relay race, where the focus begins with Samuel, a love-struck fool, then surprisingly passed on to Parson Henry, whose business is just to survive the rugged west. Penelope takes the baton to the end because this is her story. Similar to Kumiko’s journey, she’s becomes the phoenix rising from the ashes of stupid men.
The journey for Penelope winds through the western trails, constantly avoiding every man that thinks she needs saving. It is the Zellner brothers unique style that never lets Damsel sag. There is a joke around every corner, but also an unpredictable tone that keeps the audience off-balance. If anything can be said about the directing duo, it is that none of their films are the same. Instead of making a western that we have seen time and again, they make a film that pokes fun at the cliches that a history of cinema has created. Not to mention, I love their inclusion of adorable animals (Bunzo in Kumiko and now Butterscotch in Damsel) and great music. Those are some of the ingredients for me to enjoy a movie.
Damsel is not a film that will blow audiences out of the water. Sadly, the tone and humor can become a bit redundant by the end, but I still found myself thinking about the craft it took to make a film look this good. It’s a refreshing stance against the westerns of old that allowed the man to come into town and do what he wants with a woman. This Damsel needs no saving at all. She’s the hero of our hearts.
Written by: Leo Brady