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Penelope Review

By Joe Lozito

The Notorious P.I.G.


Director Mark Palansky's "Penelope" is set up as a modern day fairytale. Set in an unnamed city (very clearly London with an amalgam of British and American accents), Penelope Wilhern is born to a family of blueblood socialites with a centuries-old curse which places the nose of a pig upon the first-born Wilhern daughter. Through some expository rigmarole, we're told that Penelope is the first daughter born in several generations, leaving her stuck with the snout until she finds true love "among one of her own". Rather than face a gawking public, mom and dad Wilhern (Catherine O'Hara and Richard E. Grant) fake Penelope's death and keep her locked in the attic. Pretty dark stuff, but it's all told in a whimsical voice-over (the type featured weekly on TV's "Pushing Daisies") and the moralizing is happily kept to a minimum.

Once of age, in order to break the curse, Penelope is subjected to a bevy of shallow suitors whom she interviews through a one-way mirror (when she reveals herself, they tend to jump out the nearest window or otherwise run for cover). Penelope's fate appears sealed until a seedy journalist (Peter Dinklage, in another fine performance) bribes a down-on-his-luck gambler (James McAvoy) to woo the poor girl, thereby snagging her photo for his paper. Will the gambler fall for Penelope? Bet on it.

Mr. McAvoy plays the shaggy, raffish card well, but his scenes with Penelope are underwritten. While writer Leslie Caveny's script milks every last ounce out of its premise (sure enough, someone plays "This Little Piggy" with Penny's toes), it fails to create a winning romance between the two leads. And a subplot involving Mr. Dinklage and a sniveling rich-boy is quickly strained. Catherine O'Hara is able to salvage a bit of truth out of the shrill character of Penelope's mom, but sadly Richard E. Grant is given nothing to do as her father.

Holding it all together is Christina Ricci as the title. The frequently challenging actress has seldom been as charming as she is here behind an impressive prosthesis. Like "Edward Scissorhands" (only one of the Tim Burton movies from which this film borrows), Penelope's time in the attic has made her innocent of the ways of the world. In the film's most winning sequence, Penelope wraps her face in a Harry Potter-esque scarf and runs away from home. She stares in awe at window displays, newspaper stands, the city skyline. It's unclear what exactly this character does and doesn't know (she understands credit cards but thinks a group of joggers is chasing after her), but Ms. Ricci's wonderment, expressed solely through her eyes, sells the moment.

"Penelope" is one of those fairytales about finding your inner beauty. It's produced by Reese Witherspoon, who shows up briefly in a throwaway role as a Vespa-riding free spirit. On the surface, the film has the makings of a clever twist on "Beauty and the Beast". Ironically, it isn't much more than a superficial treatment of the material. Unlike its main character, it's beautiful to look at but there's not much there to love.

What did you think?

Movie title Penelope
Release year 2008
MPAA Rating PG
Our rating
Summary Less-than-magical fairytale about girl who must find true love in order to break the family curse that left her with the nose of a pig.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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