Something strange happened over the last few days. A Robert Pattinson fan account discovered a tweet of mine marveling at the brilliance of ‘Damsel’. One retweet later and all of Cedric Diggory fandom descended on my twitter. So this one is for them, for everyone on #TeamVampire, everyone who is here for a' Good Time" (I've yet to see it so stop asking), and of course everyone who be lives in love like good ol' Samuel Alabaster.
Now that I’ve properly welcomed my new friends, let’s dig in. As I've sat to work through my thoughts on 'Damsel' I've found it difficult. The reason being that this is a film unlike anything I've ever seen, there is no frame of reference. It is pure Satire; it is bifurcated to the point of being effectively two films.
Don't get me wrong, both halves of 'Damsel' are brilliant. They complement each other well to send a powerful message, but this likely isn't the movie you're expecting. It wasn't what I was expecting, in many ways it's better. What the Zellner brothers created is a hilarious and timely affront to toxic masculinity and the films that have historically glorified it.
The United States has, since its inception, been a country priding itself on the promise of equality. Unfortunately, the United States also, since its inception, has never quite managed to live up to that promise. Many disadvantaged groups are still fighting today for equal treatment regardless of nationality, sexual orientation, faith and, of course, gender and gender identity.
Nowhere in popular culture is this discrepancy of ideals and reality more apparent than the western genre. The Wild West has long been the venue of stories in which anyone can stake it out on their own and make a successful life out of nothing. That is, anyone with a penis.
Women in westerns are too often treated as objects; property that heroic and villainous men alike can steal back and forth from each other. Their affections are traded like baseball cards.
This is the world into which our "hero," Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson), wades. He's a bit scrawny, but otherwise Samuel is the image of an old West cowboy. On the inside though, he's everything conveniently ignored in John Wayne. He's dense and entitled, erratic and cocksure.
This is the point I have to break and praise Pattinson's performance. If I don't, the Pattinstans might revolt. He is brilliant. He employs comedic timing I was unaware he possessed (granted the only movies I'd seen him in were Harry Potter 4 and the last Twilight.) He mutes all the slimy elements of Samuel with humor, but he never lets you forget the toxic elements he embodies. Back to the review...
Samuel's arc is the one that openly skewers the genre. His odyssey to save his beloved Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) is a pure satire. An episode of "Gunsmoke" in a carnival funhouse. Penelope's arc, however, is the one that ventures beyond film satire and into commentary on our modern struggle against toxic masculinity.
I don't want to get too detailed describing Wasikowska's journey as it would be too spoiler-y. But what I will say is that Penelope's plight parallels that of modern professional women, specifically women in Hollywood. Penelope fights off at least four unwanted advances with a graceful ferocity. She feels before her time in a film set in the mid-19th century, but she perfectly embodies the powerful and inspiring women of the '#MeToo' and '#TimesUp' movements.
Together Pattinson and Wasikowska tear apart toxic masculinity. The Zellners' satire soars in the lens of our modern environment. It is really inspiring to see the way women have risen to the challenges facing them, from Trump to all the toxic men being exposed in Hollywood. It's also cool to see an indie film tackle these issues.
I urge anyone that can find a showing to See 'Damsel.' It's hilarious by its own merit, it's brilliant as a satire and it speaks well in today’s climate. Also Robert Pattinson is at a career best. Go see it! 9/10