1 Hr., 53 Mins.
Damsel December 10, 2018
enelope (Mia Wasikowska) is a damsel, but she isn’t in distress — something that Samuel (Robert Pattinson), her silver-toothed pioneer fiancé, refuses to accept. As far as he’s concerned — and what he’s been telling nearly everyone willing to listen — she’s been kidnapped and is in grave danger. But then we learn, when Samuel eventually arrives at the property at which Penelope’s purportedly being held, that this isn’t the
case. “I don’t need anyone’s saving!” she exclaims.
Damsel, which was written and directed by David and Nathan Zellner, is a methodical reversal of an inveterate narrative trope. Here, the putative damsel in distress doesn’t need or want rescue — she's simply left her former paramour — and the chivalrous hero is actually a loon who can’t move past the way things used to be. The first half of the movie chronicles Samuel’s sweaty, delusional journey through the plains and the woodlands, during which he is accompanied by a faux-preacher (David Zellner); the second circles around the aftermath of Samuel and Penelope’s reunion, which ends badly and forces her to pick up the pieces.
The movie, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is an uneasy coalescing of classic-western spunk and outré satire. The scenery-leching and vague Homeric-ness of the definitive western is the same, but the gender politics are addressed and then de-gassed. The former characteristic entails that Damsel be fun to look at. It was shot, breathtakingly, in the annals of Utah and on the coast of Oregon. But its comedic sensibilities, which ultimately can be whittled down to weirdo drama with tinges of an off-kilter sense of humor, don’t quite inspire that same admiration.
Damsel is almost a subversive farce, but the humor never takes off in an interesting or likably colorful way; the movie, which clocks at 113 minutes, is more enjoyable to talk about than to experience. Predictably, Pattinson and Wasikowska elevate the material: He’s great as a toxic dullard, and she’s first-class as a spitfire who can’t believe all the shit she has to put up with. But how good is a movie, really, that entraps pert performances in unnecessarily protracted, sometimes-limping material? C+