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'Damsel' review: A rocky road to the altar out West

Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson star in the

Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson star in the Western tale of pre-marital strife "Damsel." Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

PLOT A "parson" is shanghaied into performing a wedding with an unwilling bride.

THE CAST Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner

RATED R (for some violence, language, sexual material, and brief graphic nudity)

LENGTH 1:53

PLAYING AT Roslyn Cinemas

BOTTOM LINE Marital tale bolstered by engaging actors.

"Damsel," the new film from Austin, Texas-based brothers David and Nathan Zellner, plays with the Western genre to make some incisive commentary about the modern state of gender politics.
David Zellner stars as Parson Henry, a man from back east, seeking a fresh start. He’s not a parson, but happens to be waiting for a stagecoach with one (Robert Forster) who gives up the cloth and wanders into the desert, leaving Henry with his suit, Bible and identity. When the eager Samuel (Robert Pattinson) comes into town to collect the parson, he’s hired to officiate Samuel's wedding.
Samuel, however, isn’t exactly on the level when he reveals that the planned proposal to his love, Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), involves kidnapping her back from a rival, Anton, and then staging a wedding on the spot. Parson Henry becomes his unwitting posse, despite his protestations, and ends up involved in a love triangle that spirals into lethal violence.
The self-possessed Penelope is no damse with no patience for the macho posturing of Samuel, or Anton’s brother, Rufus (Nathan Zellner), a skins-clad mountain man. The only reason Parson Henry survives her rage is his utterly submissive nature, a beta male among alphas.
"Damsel" is the kind of film you admire without fully enjoying. There’s a layer of artifice in performance and dialogue, as well as the slow plotting. The intention is to reveal the deconstruction of the genre’s conventions to the audience, but it prevents the audience from getting swept away by the story and scenic landscapes. There are some oddball laughs throughout, but whether or not one responds is a question of personal taste.

Nevertheless, the Zellners have assembled an excellent cast, fully committed to the cause. Pattinson, who is on a run of working with daring indie auteurs, takes a hold of this role with vigor and pours himself into it. He’s incredibly game for anything, and his talent elevates the project, as does Wasikowska, who proves herself a true Western heroine.

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