Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
Screenwriter: Nathan Zellner, David Zellnew
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Forster, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Joseph Biligiere
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 4/30/18
Opens: June 22, 2018
If you’re a big movie fan, you are likely to be disappointed by same ‘ol same ‘ol. Revenge stories? He done me wrong, I made him pay. Romances? Boy chases girl, girl chase boy, marriage. Old Westerns? Cowboys surrounded by Indians, Cavalry comes to the rescue. Children may like to hear the same story twenty times, but mature adults want change. And “Damsel” is one picture that offers a change. Quite a change. But being different, being a maverick film maker like the Zeller brothers, does not necessarily result in entertaining fare. “Damsel” is an example of a tiresome look at a post-modern picture that may make you crave another look at “High Noon” and “Shane” and “Unforgiven.”
The Zellners’ “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunger” about a Japanese woman who thinks a VHS of “Fargo” is a treasure map leading to a pot of money, is as conventional as “Leave It To Beaver” by comparison with “Damsel.” A few scenes stand out, but then again even “Showgirls” is not a dud throughout its entire running time.
The prologue, for example, focuses on a dialogue, more like a monologue, between a young man and an older preacher, the latter played by the Robert Forster, one of the greats of the business but a performer who has always been seriously underutilized. The old preacher has had it with trying to convert Indians to Christianity, but they “just ain’t interested,” and probably “there are enough Christians already.” The young fella takes on the identity of the preacher, Parson Henry (David Zellner) and heads out to find love, his quest about to become less remote when he takes a job from Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattison), who pays him to perform a hoped-for wedding between him and Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), a damsel he seeks to rescue from kidnappers.
As the two move westward, leading Butterscotch (Daisy) who is to be Samuel’s wedding gift to his bride, they run into odd characters, ultimately discovering that all their expectations—the parson’s for love, Samuels’ for marriage, and Penelope for happiness– are difficult to meet.
It’s too bad, because the convincing commentary up front from the old preacher, a downright high stepping hoedown between the characters you’ve come to expect from the old Westerns, just about the cutest pony you’re likely to see in other movies, and a look at a broken-down saloon managed by a hostile bartender with a foot-long beard, are not enough to take this parody into high ground.
The photography featuring the standard red rocks that announce The West (taken in the beginning in Utah’s Goblin Valley and later in parts of Oregon) and the music by The Octopus Project are spot-on. But with a parson who is more irritating than anyone should have to take, a one-note performance by a pretty woman, and the images of a handsome, nattily dressed easterner on the way to rescue his damsel, do not serve to help the story at all.
Unrated. 113 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – D
Acting – B
Technical – B-
Overall – C