Robert Pattinson, who’s becoming a Jack of All Trades actor (master of none?) jumps from gritty urban crime drama to the Old West in his latest movie “Damsel.” The reviews are rolling in and they’re not half bad for a genre that has a hard time escaping cliches. But there’s a reason for that.
Pattinson’s career has been nothing, if not peripatetic, so why not a Western?
He plays (cliche alert) Samuel, a fast-talking, fancy dressing dude, who travels with a guitar and a pygmy horse named Butterscotch. He’s off to meet and marry the love of his life, Penelope, played by Mia Wasikowska.
But first, Samuel must rescue Penelope from her despicable kidnapper, Anton, played by Gabe Casdorph. He’s joined on his quest by Parson Henry (David Zellner), a drunkard preacher with a decidedly existential view of life.
The David and Nathan Zellner comedy is clearly a parody of the golden era of ’30s and ’40s Westerns. But some critics dare call the film “revisionist.” You find out why as the picture progresses.
For his part, Pattinson described the film as, “a kind of slapstick comedy.”
But the Zellners, who co-wrote and co-directed the film quickly, aren’t about to let viewers off the hook that easily.
During their trek to find Penelope, the good parson declares his life meaningless, strips down and walks off into the desert to die. Sam continues and eventually catches up with Anton.
He kills the supposed evil doer and proposes on the spot. Penelope readily accepts (does he have a choice?). Who should appear out of the sage brush but Parson Henry. He dutifully marries them, before it’s revealed that Penelope was actually already happily married to… Anton.
It seems Sam has been stalking her across the high plains because he’s obsessed with her.
At that point, the movie drops its parodist pretense and becomes a “biting indictment” of Western movie takes on good and evil, stoicism, independence, honor and solitude.
“’Damsel’ is viciously whimsical, if such a thing is possible, and it’s thrillingly subversive,” writes William Bibbiani for The Wrap.
Most reviewers seem to agree. The film has received an 80 rating on rottentomatoes.com, which tracks, reviews, although metacritic, a similar site, comes in with a more modest 65 rating.
Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times, says “Damsel” “turns the classic western into something wackily eccentric and entertainingly original.”
Penelope quickly becomes the focus of the film as she tries to wriggle her way out of a marriage she never really wanted. But it’s the same story over-and-over again. She just can’t seem to escape possessive men.
On that score, the move is a modern-day feminist take on the struggles women are going through to establish their identities and take control of their own lives.
The most oft repeated criticism is the film’s repetitiveness and it’s length. Penelope is dragged repeatedly through the indignities of being a 19th century woman, otherwise known as chattel.
Pattinson draws praise for his spirited acting, although he fades from the picture after the first 40 minutes or so. Wasikowska takes over and drives home the movie’s theme.
“Damsel” is the best kind of revisionist Western, with a fresh perspective, and a vital, relevant point to make,” writes Bibbiani, calling it “a spry and illuminating comedy, no matter how many times it repeats its jokes.”
All of the scant negative criticism is aimed at the film’s lazy pacing and thin plot.
The film opens this weekend. Check out the trailer below.
Editor’s Note: Yes, Pattinson is contributing to the movie’s soundtrack. And, check out his twang. Rob prides himself on mastering dialects.