e street film society

IN THEATERS (SF) – “Damsel”

Damsel (2018; DIr.: David Zellner and Nathan Zellner)

GRADE: C

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Friday, June 29, at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.

I was thoroughly under the sway of David Zellner’s 2015 breakthrough movie Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, I’m a huge fan of the feisty intellect of Mia Wasikowska, and after last year’s Good Time, I couldn’t be more on board with the idea of Robert Pattinson playing a proto-incel, singin’ cowboy stalker.  Unfortunately, this pokey revisionist western makes for a flat follow-up to Kumiko, in no small part due to the bait-and-switch that Damsel plays with its ostensible stars.  Despite their above-the-title billing, it would be a major stretch to call Pattinson and Wasikowska the stars of Damsel, since they both spend half the film offscreen.  The real star: David Zellner as Parson Henry, a grieving alcoholic stumbling in search of “a fresh start,” a man who receives his preacher garb and half-smoked Bible from a deranged man (a fantastic Robert Forster).  David Zellner did a fine job in a small role in Kumiko, but he lacks the presence needed to carry a film, so there is a gaping hole in the center of the film.  Even without that egregious casting, though, too much of Damsel feels consciously Lynch-ian in a way that only seems to work for Lynch, and the story is filled with inanely self-congratulatory genre “twists” (why, that “damsel” is no damsel at all, get it).  If you’re looking for a revisionist western, you could do a hell of a lot better – Damsel couldn’t carry the water of The Missouri Breaks.