“If at any moment Time stays his hand, it is only when we are delivered over to the miseries of boredom.”
Without wasting the time with a prologue, lets get into this clown-show odyssey. Damsel involves two sets of creatures.
On one side, the men (Robert Pattinson, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner): three pathetic, squirmy fools whose cowardice is matched only by their stupidity and wayward obsession over the damsel.
On the other, the damsel (Mia Wasikowska) not in distress (we get it): whose personality disorder borderlines on toxic femininity, stuck in a constant loop of being “either horrified or exasperated or frustrated or disgusted by the men who project their romantic fantasies on her or try to impose their will on her.” The men, seemingly oblivious to their non-invitation, continue in their desperate straits to using circumstances and religion to domesticate the wild spirit of the modern woman. Richard Roper explains perfectly in his wildly inflated review:
In the wonderfully offbeat, endearingly askew, consistently funny feminist Western “Damsel,” a number of men make the mistake of believing Mia Wasikowska’s Penelope is a delicate, vulnerable flower who must be saved — after which she will be eternally grateful and all too happy to settle in for a lifetime of taking care of her man and providing him with all the children he desires.
Her exhaustive air of self-importance towers over the men as they desperately try to conquer her through their respective (pathetic) wiles. She is the modern woman to be, in need of no man and in need of no rescue: “stay in your lanes boys and wait till I give you permission to ask me to dance.”
And if that wasn’t enough, the film is a stupendous bore. If Arthur Schopenhauer is to be believed that “the two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom,” then I have matched the depths of unhappiness watching Damsel in being painfully bored. With the Zellner Brothers having very little sense for comedic writing and even less for narrative progression, sensible scene transitions, and character development. The fact this film was even considered by the Berlin Film Festival instead of going straight to Netflix personifies the health of the film industry.
Pattison was the only one to play his role with any competence and the Sebastian-pony was a perfect analogy of the collective competence of the Zellers to make a decent film in comparison with the stature of the Coen Brothers. Aside from the beautiful setting, this film is an embarrassment to strong female roles. I’ve seen and celebrate the empowerment of women in recent films like Wind River, Annihilation, and Tully, with their tactfulness and substantive rendering of the female potential. In comparison, Damsel is a charade of uncontrollable set pieces we see to the point of nausea on the poster boards of campus child advocates. An abysmal display of writing that could only come from two brothers desperate to pander to the female Hollywood elites. In the words of Samuel Beckett: “Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.”
Perhaps it’s time that the Zellers take to the path of the “Old Preacher,” hang up their robes, dispossess from their reels, and walk into the barren landscape for the Lord to take them away.