Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson star in 'Damsel'

Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson star in 'Damsel' 

The Zellner brothers are beginning to resemble the Coen brothers with their latest release, a deadpan western called “Damsel” featuring a kooky self-appointed hero played by Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikoowska as a tenacious frontier woman who is certainly no damsel in distress. Writer-directors David Zellner and Nathan Zellner play a couple of the quirky characters in the film that serves as a follow-up to 2015’s “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.”
Pattinson has wiped the cinematic hard drive of any traces that he once played a pretty boy vampire in his breakthrough role as Edward Cullen ten years ago. After portraying offbeat characters in films “Cosmopolis,” “The Rover,” “The Lost City of Z,” and “Good Time,” the actor continues to grow his legacy by working with talented directors on low budget films. In “Damsel” we see Pattinson as Samuel Alabaster, the anti-Clint Eastwood, who doesn’t ride into town causing folks to drop everything as in “High Plains Drifter,” instead, he walks into town alongside a miniature horse named Butterscotch. This elicits a different reaction than Eastwood’s the Stranger, one of laughter especially from the town drunk wearing a barrel with suspenders. The scene perfectly sets up the Zellner’s western which at times gets very cartoonish.
“Damsel” takes place in 1870 in the Old West where Samuel is on a mission to rescue his version of Pearl Pureheart named Penelope (played by the wonderful Mia Wasikowska), from the hands of villain Oil Can Harry or as in this case Anton (Gabe Casdorph) who has reportedly kidnapped Samuel’s love interest. Yes, the film feels like a live-action version of Mighty Mouse, the only thing missing is Samuel singing “Here I come to save the day!” (although he does carry a guitar).
So, armed with Butterscotch (Penelope loves miniature ponies) and an alcoholic preacher man, Parson Henry (a very good David Zellner), the two set off to rescue Penelope.  Actually, Parson has no idea he’s part of a rescue mission. He’s only been told by Samuel that they are headed to meet Penelope so Parson can unite the couple in holy matrimony. Things don’t go exactly according to plan, but I won’t divulge any further information.
Once again Austin’s talented The Octopus Project provides the score for “Damsel” after previously performing similar duties on the Zellners' “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.” The gorgeous Utah landscape captured by cinematographer Adam Stone (“Loving”) is stunning at times, providing a scenic backdrop for the quirky film.
There is a shift in tone halfway through “Damsel” which puts the viewer in a different mindset. It was surprising, but I enjoyed how the film developed into something slightly different. The deadpan humor mixed with a bit of slapstick forms a layer of comedy that remains on the surface while more weighty themes bubble underneath. Pattinson and Wasikowska shine in the film that doesn’t take itself too seriously even when matters take a turn for the worse.
(3 ½ stars)
Now playing at Edwards Greenway Grand Palace (Houston) and in Austin at Violet Crown Cinema, AFS Cinema, and Regal Arbor 8 @ Great Hills.

Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society.  He co-founded the Victoria Film Society and reviews films for Hit Radio 104.7 and the Victoria Advocate.

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