There have been few films in recent years that walked the line between comedy and tragedy in quite as profound and effective a way as Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter – which told the story of a young Japanese girl setting off to America in a bid to dig up the treasure buried at the end of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. It marked the arrival of another set of brothers to keep an eye out for in directing duo David and Nathan Zellner – and they return with Damsel. Needless to say, expectations this time round are really rather high.
This darkly comedic western stars Robert Pattinson as Samuel Alabaster, a misguided romantic searching for his one true love, and fiancee Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), who has been kidnapped by his foe Anton Cornell. He journeys with an equally as hopeless an accomplice in the under-qualified preacher Parson Henry (one half of the directing double act, David Zellner) who he hopes will marry them in the sunset, when he finally saves his damsel in distress, and reclaims his bride-to-be.
Full to the brim of quirky eccentricities, Damsel is at its best when subtle, with a comedic undercurrent that exists throughout thanks to the sheer pathetic qualities of the travelling duo. Which is why it’s a shame when the gags become more overt and contrived, vying to crowd-please when in fact frustrating the majority of the audience. While Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter slowly found its way, Damsel progressively loses its, though what it does share in common is the ability to surprise. The Zellner brothers are filmmakers you certainly can’t second guess, which makes for a fun experience as you never quite know which way the narrative will turn – and who you can trust.
It’s also comparable to their preceding endeavour in that it features inherently sad characters in an almost farcical environment, as while we laugh at the absurdities and misdemeanours of Samuel and Parson, they actually represent quite tragic creations, blinded, just like Kumiko, with an endearing, blissful, and ultimately misguided sense of optimism. Then Penelope shows up – further highlighting their imbecilic nature, which represents the film’s funniest aspect; how she is just surrounded by idiots. Everywhere she turns. The character does make some questionable choices however which could distance herself from the viewer, and while her harsh nature is funny – and completely justifiable, at times – at others it seems a little exaggerated, and well, just a little cruel.
It’s a great role for Wasikowska to get teeth stuck into anyway, and the same can be said of Pattinson, with playful turns that completely encapsulates the film’s adventurous tone. The pair are seemingly having a lot of fun on this project, and in turn, so are we.