Damsel review: The Zellner Brothers head to the wild west in this light-hearted, very witty comedy adventure with more than a few tricks up its sleeve.

Damsel review by Paul Heath.

Damsel review
Damsel review

Robert Pattinson leads the cast of Damsel, the Zellner brothers’ latest effort, a western that lands in Europe in-competition at the Berlinale, following a global premiere at Sundance last month.

Pattinson stars as Samuel Alabastor who is, as he keeps reminding us, just a regular Joe looking for a lost love. Said lost love is the titular Damsel, Mia Wasikowska’s Penelope, the love of Samuel’s life, who has apparently gone missing. Samuel hires the services of local preacher Parson Henry (David Zellner), a washed-up aging drunk who is to assist Samuel on his search and marry as soon as they are reunited.  The two set off on a cross-country journey, Henry with his based up bible, and Samuel with a guitar strapped to his back and a miniature pony named Butterscotch in tow – a surprise wedding gift for Penelope. Of course, things don’t quite go according to plan and the two must overcome a variety of hurdles as the narrative plays out.

Damsel review
Damsel review

Damsel is knowingly littered with genre clichés (scenes set against the backdrop of the familiar Monument Valley, singing around a campfire – yes, Mr. Pattinson gets to show off his crooning abilities – guitars strapped to cowboys’ back, and so on), but there are many surprises along the way in this entertaining and humourous off-beat comedy too.

Related: Good Time review

Pattinson is on top form at the lovelorn ‘hero’ of the piece, a surprise departure for the young actor after a more serious turn in last year’s Good Time. Here he is having the time of his life as Samuel, a role which, while perfect for him, could have been massively mishandled by the kind of actor you may have expected to lead a film of this kind. Matching him is the exceptional Wasikowska, who excels in this very strong female character, missing for most of the film, but one who comes into her own during the pleasing second half. David Zellner carries most of the film as the drunken ‘preacher’ and is superb also, while his filmmaking partner Nathan also delivers a lot of the movie’s funnier moments as the brilliantly written Rufus Cornell. Then there’s Robert Forster’s one-scene cameo early on, the veteran actor playing a character known only as ‘Old Preacher’.

Damsel review
Damsel review

The film is absolutely a film of two halves and, without giving away the massive plot twist hallway in, takes you on a pleasing journey where you don’t quite know what’s around the corner. There are laughs to be had, but rather than side-splitting laugh-out-loud moments, you’re more likely to smirk at the comedy, but smirk you will – a lot.

The tone of the film may not be for everyone – there were a few groans as the credits started to roll he in Berlin – and the pacing may be an issue for more mainstream audiences, but Damsel offers something unique, something a little different and throws in enough curve-balls during its fairy tight running time to keep the viewer interested throughout. A light-hearted, often funny, and very original and look at the western genre.

Damsel review by Paul Heath, February 2018.

Damsel is awaiting a UK release. It was reviewed at the 2018 Berlin International Film festival.

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Damsel