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With: Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Robert Forster, Joseph Billingiere, Gabe Casdorph, Angela Summers
Written by: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
Directed by: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
MPAA Rating: R for some violence, language, sexual material, and brief graphic nudity
Running Time: 113
Date: 06/22/2018

Damsel (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Wedding Flake

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This very strange Western peppered with dryly comical moments is definitely out to thwart expectations. It succeeds nicely but only intermittently, as it often stretches its odd moments a bit too far.

In Damsel, it's the Old West, and Samuel (Robert Pattinson) arrives in town, guitar and miniature horse called Butterscotch. He has hired Parson Henry (David Zellner) to accompany him to his beloved Penelope (Mia Wasikowska). He intends to serenade her, ask for her hand in marriage, and present her with the horse as a gift. Along the way, they encounter the bearded mountain man Rufus (Nathan Zellner), who exchanges a few gunshots with Samuel.

Samuel then reveals to the parson that, in fact, Penelope has been kidnapped by Rufus and his brother, and that they need to rescue her before the marriage proposal can take place. The parson, who is, in fact, not a real parson — he was given his clothing and Bible by an older preacher (Robert Forster) who gave up the calling — finds himself in a wildly unexpected situation, with the weirdest yet to come.

Co-directed by David Zellner, whose Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter conjures up a similarly offbeat tone, and his brother Nathan, Damsel has at its center the Parson Henry character (played by director David), who should probably be more appealing, but he's a little too pathetic. Likewise, the movie's humor is often a bit too queasy or slightly mis-timed (on the long side).

Pattinson shows the courage of his convictions, unafraid to let his character look silly — or plain lousy — in various moments. Wasikowska comes out the best; her frontier woman is extremely firm and decisive, and yet capable of tenderness. A character like hers is a rarity in the Western genre.

The Zellners compliment her with their fine use of outdoor cinematography, pitched wide so as to capture the hardscrabble loneliness of this world. One sequence, wherein Penelope finds a heart carved in tree bark among a grove of them, comes close to beautiful. But even so, Damsel is for adventurous viewers only.

Lionsgate's bare-bones DVD release comes only with a 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix, optional subtitles (English, Spanish, and English SDH), and a trailer for Measure of a Man. There doesn't appear to be a Blu-ray, nor a bonus digital copy. The outdoor landscapes still look great, however, and whatever fans of Weird Westerns still exist out there will not want to miss this potential cult item.

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