Synopsis: A Western about a young man trying to free the love of his life after she is kidnapped and accompanies a priest in hopes of finalizing the marriage once he liberates her.
David Zellner and Nathan Zellner’s DAMSEL is as messy as much as it attempts to entertain. In this uneven comedy/drama film that premieres tonight at the Berlin Film Festival, Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska play against type but the film never takes off and doesn’t result in an engaging experience overall.
The story focuses on Samuel (Pattinson) who is in love with Penelope (Wasikowska), who has been kidnapped to a far away place in the mountains. Eager to find her so they can get married, Samuel enlists the help of a priest (David Zellner) to go with him on this perilous journey to free Penelope and getting married once the mission is successful. Things, however, do not go according to plan and Samuel discovers that he might have been wrong about Penelope and that perhaps this is not the happily-forever-after story he had once imagined.
The Zellner brothers wanted to craft a Western that offers perhaps a different take on female characters, and they succeed in making Penelope a unique and un-stereotypical character that surprises the audience throughout. Unfortunately, the film’s narrative is too muddled and there are serious pacing and editing issues that makes the first half lose steam so quickly that when the second half arrives, the audience may have checked out already.
Adam Stone’s cinematography is the real star of the film – gorgeous shots grace the film from the first frame to the last and serve as a character on its own in the film – and the sound work is also very solid. The script lacks elements that could have helped the film be more than just another Western and the audience can’t help but feel, by the end of the film, that what they had seen is an under-developed version of a much more interesting film that could have been made. While Penelope’s character is fleshed out with interesting bits and dialogue that expresses the character’s motives (combined with a fine turn by Wasikowska, the rest of the characters seem to serve the comedy portion of the film rather than serving the progression of the story itself. In fact, several sequences of the film could have been cut without any impact on the way the story progresses, leaving the audience to wonder whether DAMSEL is more of an exercise in style rather than an attempt to tell a coherent story.
Arthouse audiences may be intrigued to see the film based on the talent and setting, but the film lacks mainstream accessibility to land it any further expansion opportunities. The comedy elements could help soften the bleak nature of the story, but when the jokes come and go and the audience is left with a story that is not that interesting to follow.
Verdict: Technically well made, DAMSEL is a stylish, weird and incoherent Western that tries to blend drama and comedy but fails to engage throughout.