Damsel: A Wholly Original Western

Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska in DAMSEL, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

A wholly original film with a twist you never see coming, Damsel is a hysterical western from the minds of David Zellner and Nathan Zellner.

Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson) has tracked down the location of the woman he plans to marry, Penelope (Mia Wasikowska).  As he sets through in his journey, he hires Parson Henry (David Zellner) to officiate the wedding when he finds his future bride in addition to a gift, a miniature horse called Butterscotch.  Samuel tells Parson Henry that Penelope is being held captive by Anton Cornell.  Along the way, they run into Anton’s brother, Rufus (Nathan Zellner).

Where the fun truly begins is the film’s second half after Samuel reunites with Penelope.  Only Penelope does not have the same feelings.  Penelope takes over the second half much in the same way that Samuel led the first half.  The halfway point of the film, for better or worse, will be debated about for quite some time.

There’s a lot to love and enjoy about the film.  There’s some bold storytelling choices on the Zellners’ part.  One of those choices will no doubt lead to potential claims of the film being marketed as a love story.  True, there is a layer of romance at stake but it’s a one-sided romance at best.  This is because the feelings that Samuel has for Penelope are not reciprocated.  This begs the question of just what was behind the the dancing scene at the beginning.  Is it real or fantasy?  The Zellners, at a post-screening Q&A in May, were tight-lipped about that scene to say the least.  As far as debate, the scene is right there with the ending of The Florida Project.

Make no mistake that Damsel is the funniest western in years.  The genre is one that doesn’t quite get the same love as it did in the past.  The film generally avoids the gruesome murders that are typically featured on screen.  One notable murder is wisely shown off-screen.  The aforementioned murder is also one of the Zellners’ boldest choices by far.

It’s a solid performance on part of both leads.  It’s not quite up there with Robert Pattinson’s performance in Good Time but he’s been making some solid choices in his career of late.  Taking on a role in a film in which he’s only in half of it is a very fascinating choice.  Pattinson doesn’t play any of it down.  He brings the slapstick nature to his character.

As for Mia Wasikowska, she gets the second lead in the film.  Given the nearly 2 hour running time, we’re waiting about as long as we did for Harrison Ford in Blade Runner 2049 for Mia’s first real appearance, comparatively speaking.  Once she shows up, she earns the second lead billing through her performance.

The film is the type of western that looks one way on paper but in reality, it’s a completely different film altogether.  Filmmakers don’t make westerns like they used to but Damsel may be the funniest to come around in years.

DIRECTORS/SCREENWRITERS:  David Zellner and Nathan Zellner
CAST:  Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Joe Billingiere, and Robert Forster

Following the world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, Magnolia Pictures and Grace Point Media will release the film in theaters on June 22, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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