Cussed larkiness suffuses “Damsel,” a fit of fancy sprayed across the American Western to intermittently inspired comic effect and a few sardonic stripes of surrealism.The Zellner brothers’ first feature together since the icy capades of “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” (2014) is sweetly inhabited by a dazed Robert Pattinson and screen goddess Mia Wasikowska. In an indeterminate place in an indeterminate stretch of the 1800s, Pattinson plays Samuel Alabaster, a well-heeled pioneer who ventures into the wilderness to marry Penelope (Wasikowska), the one woman he truly loves. (There is also Butterscotch, a miniature horse.) While the sustained deadpan has a different impact than the lovely, glassy, glacial madness of “Kumiko,” there is still tonal consistency in the comedy that will either charm or alarm. (The Coen brothers say hello from over that hill there.) “We liked the idea of taking some of the tropes that are all too common—the hero and the villain, the damsel in distress—and giving them more levels, making it more complex,” co-writer-co-director David expands in the film’s press notes. “We wanted to come up with a dynamic that would honor the tropes of the genre, but have it be more relatable on a human level, instead of these one-dimensional archetypes.” Wasikowska’s sturdiness is the strongest emblem of “Damsel’s” earnest revisionist tack. With Robert Forster, Nathan Zellner and David Zellner as a drunkard pastor. 113m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
“Damsel” opens Friday, June 29 at Music Box.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.