The tonally berserk western-comedy hybrid Damsel often suggests a Wes Anderson–directed acid western, only without Anderson’s knack for sad-sack jokes about macho pride or the acid western’s typically spiritual consideration of white guys’ destructive nature.
Instead, fraternal co-writer/co-director duo David and Nathan Zellner (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter) subject the understandably exasperated pioneer woman Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) to a gauntlet of cartoonishly immature men — particularly dumbbell fiancé Samuel (Robert Pattinson) and his jittery traveling companion Parson Henry (David Zellner) — who all imagine she’s a helpless babe in the woods and seek to dominate her.
Unfortunately, Penelope almost never gets to use her Looney Tunes–style weapons — a physically bent, out-of-shape, two-barrel rifle and several bundles of dynamite sticks — on the Zellners’ preferred subjects. They are juvenile Nice Guys who run off cliffs, compare the size of their Adam’s apples, and shoot each other while they’re on the john or taking a leak. Still, you may like Damsel if you’ve ever wanted to see, in detail, a grown (and uncircumcised) man piss himself after being fatally shot in the head.
Or you may be frustrated by the Zellners’ goony critique of toxic masculinity. Consider that their most substantial dig at Samuel’s pseudo-harmless self-image — a campfire scene where Pattinson’s character performs for Henry a love ballad that he wrote for Penelope — only requires the former Twilight star to strum a guitar while murmuring variations on “Oh, honeybun,” “My honeybun,” and “I love you, honeybun.” Pattinson and Wasikowska deserve better material than the Zellners’ head-scratchingly lazy jokes.
Written and directed by David and Nathan Zellner
Opens June 22, IFC Center, Landmark 57 West, and Film Society of Lincoln Center
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