Damsel

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Damsel Movie Poster Image
Unusual, uneven Western has violence, language, drinking.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 113 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Movie is mostly about misfortune, suffering, and/or misbehaving characters (or rather, characters behaving ignorantly). One takeaway might be to listen more carefully or to think before you act. But these are hardly the movie's main points.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Notable for featuring a strong female character in a genre that usually doesn't make room for them. But she's also a victim of unfortunate circumstance, and her behavior leans toward rage and revenge, so she's not someone to emulate.

Violence

Characters die. Guns and shooting, with blood spurts and bloody wounds. A man is hanged by a rope (a young boy rides a horse that pulls away the victim's stool, causing him to drop). A man commits suicide (off screen). Dynamite and explosions. Man shot by arrow. Punching/hitting with rock. Preparing to chop off a chicken's head (camera then cuts away to cooked chicken being eaten). A man tries to grab a woman's breast.

Sex

Reference to a "gang bang" social (men pay "a buck and a half a head" to be with a woman). Brief graphic male nudity. A main character masturbates, his back to the camera.

Language

Strong language includes uses of "f--k," "s--t," "p---y," "hell," "bitch," "bastard," "damn," "moron," "Jesus" (as an exclamation), and many, many uses of "goddamn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A main character is a heavy drinker. He appears heavily drunk in one scene and craves alcohol. He takes several drinks. Other characters drink and smoke.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Damsel is an unusual, somewhat comical Western about a man (Robert Pattinson) who's trying to find and marry the woman he loves (Mia Wasikowska). Violent scenes include guns and shooting; characters die, and you'll see blood spurts and bloody wounds, suicide, a character being hanged (a young boy is involved in the incident), and dynamite and explosions. Language is strong, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more -- plus especially heavy use of "goddamn." One character is a heavy drinker who's shown quite drunk and later craves alcohol. Other characters drink and smoke. A main character masturbates with his back to the camera, and there's a reference to a "gang bang." A man tries (and fails) to grab a woman's breast. This movie, which turns many genre conventions sideways, won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it has enough good stuff to be worth recommending to older teens and up.

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What's the story?

DAMSEL takes place in the Old West, with Samuel (Robert Pattinson) arriving in town with his guitar and a miniature horse called Butterscotch. He's hired Parson Henry (David Zellner) to accompany him to find his beloved Penelope (Mia Wasikowska). Samuel intends to serenade her, ask for her hand in marriage, and present her with the horse as a gift. Along the way, Samuel and Parson Henry encounter the bearded mountain man named Rufus (Nathan Zellner), who exchanges a few gunshots with Samuel. Samuel then reveals to the parson that, in fact, Penelope has been kidnapped by Rufus and his brother, and they need to rescue her before the marriage proposal can take place. The parson, who is, in fact, not a real parson -- he was given his clothing and Bible by an older preacher (Robert Forster) who gave up the calling -- finds himself in a wildly unexpected situation, with the weirdest still to come.

Is it any good?

This very odd Western, which is peppered with dryly comical moments, is definitely out to thwart viewers' expectations. It succeeds nicely but only intermittently, as it often stretches its quirky moments a bit too far. Co-directed by David Zellner, whose Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter conjured up a similarly offbeat tone, and his brother Nathan, Damsel has at its center the Parson Henry character (played by David), who should probably be more appealing, but he's a little too pathetic. Likewise, the movie's humor is often a bit too queasy or slightly mistimed (on the long side).

Pattinson shows the courage of his convictions; he's not afraid to let his character look silly -- or plain lousy -- in various moments. But it's Wasikowska who comes out the best; her frontier woman is extremely firm and decisive, yet capable of tenderness. A character like hers is a rarity in the Western genre. The Zellners compliment her with their fine use of outdoor cinematography, pitched wide so as to capture the hardscrabble loneliness of this world. One sequence, in which Penelope finds a heart carved in tree bark within a grove, comes close to beautiful. But even so, Damsel is for adventurous viewers only.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Damsel's use of violence. How intense or frequent is it? What effect does it have (is it amusing, thrilling, or shocking)? Does it seem necessary for the story?

  • How is drinking depicted? Is drinking made to look cool or glamorous? Are there consequences? Why does that matter?

  • Is Penelope a role model? Does she have agency and make her own choices? In what ways is she strong? In what ways is she not so strong?

  • What's the appeal of the Western genre? How is this one different from other Westerns?

Movie details

For kids who love quirky Westerns

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