To rescue his kidnapped fiancee, an earnest dandy rides into the wilderness, accompanied by a fake preacher and a miniature horse. That's the setup for Damsel, a deadpan farce filmed on the rocky Utah turf of classic John Ford Westerns. David and Nathan Zellner are on another cinematic quest.
The sibling writer-directors' 2014 Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter dispatched a young Japanese woman to the domain of a better-known pair of movie-making brothers, the Coens. After mistaking Fargo for a true story, she sought that movie's fictional loot. The protagonist of Damsel is similarly deluded, but not as central to the story as the heroine of the Zellners' previous lark. The filmmakers have less patience for prissy Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson) than they did for clueless Kumiko.
The first of the principal characters to be introduced is so-called Parson Henry. (He's played by David Zellner, whose Kumiko cop was similarly slow-witted.) In a droll prologue, Henry is ceded a battered Bible and preacher clothes by a fed-up frontier clergyman (Robert Forster) who promptly vanishes.
A refugee from Baltimore, Henry is more interested in cadging drinks than saving souls. Samuel enlists him for the mission to free Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), planning that the preacher will marry the couple after the heroic deed is accomplished.