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, In other words, 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.
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.