Damsel (2018) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

There wasn’t much to go on when I chose to see Damsel (2018) at SXSW. I saw the picture of Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska and was intrigued enough to see it. The film was good in many ways but felt a little long at times. David Zellner and Nathan Zellner created a movie that is funny often, slightly shocking at times, but a little long-winded. Still, it was a solid film overall.

Damsel has some solid laughs and good performances but overstays its welcome

The movie opens with the great Robert Forster playing an old preacher sitting on a bench waiting for a stagecoach. It’s revealed that he’s not alone, and the other man, Parson Henry (David Zellner), asks which way the coach usually arrives from. The old preacher explains he’s done with the west and is going back east, and, after a few moments and some solid dialogue that sets up a theme, he gets up and leaves. It’s here we get to see Pattinson and Wasikowska dancing and posing for the promotional image used, and the film truly begins.

Samuel (Pattinson) is a businessman who has hired Parson Henry to marry he and Penelope (Wasikowska).  It’s a long ride from the city Parson Henry is in, and the story unfolds more and more as it goes on. Samuel has even procured a miniature horse named Butterscotch as a wedding gift for his betrothed. The parson is a bit of a lush but is clearly in need of money and a purpose, so he doesn’t put up much resistance as more of the adventure is revealed to him.

Pattinson and Wasikowska are both giving incredible performances in the film. Pattison has some strong comedic chops and gives his character some interesting mannerisms. While sitting around the campfire with Parson Henry, he declares that he wrote Penelope a song, and offers to perform it. The words are funny, but the way Pattison performs is what really sells the laughs. Of course, the Zellner brothers deserve some credit. They take several of the Western conventions and use them to add humor – some of which is dark – to their film. In many ways, it was extremely enjoyable, but it did feel to drag on after the midpoint.

Wasikowska plays a strong female character that is clearly the opposite of how many women were portrayed in the old Western films. Her entrance into the film’s main story is a comedic one and has a few shocks along the way. She won me over quickly with her charm, strength, and the ability to deliver punchlines when needed. Even though you have two big names in this film, the story is really about Henry. Fortunately, David Zellner performs very well with this two noteworthy actors.

Final thoughts…

Overall, the film was enjoyable. It was shocking to see a lot of prairies rather than vast desert locations that are usually associated with Westerns. Yet, it was hard to keep my eyes open in the second half, as some elements seemed to stretch out, and probably two or three scenes could have been trimmed down or cut altogether. Still, Damsel earns the Decent Watch rating.

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