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  Publicity Stills of
(Courtesy from Cathay-Keris Films)

Genre: Romance/Comedy
Director: Mark Palansky
Cast: Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Catherine O'Hara, Reese Witherspoon, Peter Dinklage, Richard E. Grant, Simon Woods, Ronni Ancona, Nick Frost, Richard James
RunTime: 1 hr 44 mins
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Rating: PG
Official Website: http://www.penelopethemovie.com/

Opening Day: 19 June 2008


"Penelope" is the story of a young woman, Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci), born to wealthy socialites (Richard E. Grant and Catherine O'Hara). Penelope is afflicted by a secret family curse that can only be broken when she is loved by one of her own kind. Hidden away in the family's majestic home, she is subjected to meeting a string of blue-bloods through her parent's futile attempt to marry her off and break the curse. Each suitor is instantly enamored with Penelope (and her sizable dowry)... until the curse is revealed.

When a willing mate cannot be found, mischievous tabloid reporter Lemon (Peter Dinklage) hires Max (James McAvoy) to pose as a prospective suitor in hopes of snapping a photo of the mysterious Penelope. Max, who is really a down-on-his-luck gambler, finds himself drawn to Penelope and not wanting to expose or disappoint her, disappears and leaves Lemon in the lurch. Fed up by this latest betrayal and determined to live life on her own terms, Penelope breaks free from her family and goes out into the world in search of adventure - curse be damned.

Movie Review:

"Penelope" is a story about an aristocratic heiress born with a pig's snout – the result of a curse cast upon her ancient family. To break the curse and return her nose (and ears for that matter) to normalcy, Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci) believes she must marry someone of her own kind who will accept her as she is. It's hardly an easy task as all her suitors, procured from a matchmaker, unceremoniously flee upon seeing her face. Not to mention Penelope's practically under house arrest by order of her mother, whose ardent protection of her borders on hysteria, but against all odds one man (James McAvoy as Max) sticks...or does he? While he seems truly sincere he turns out to have been hired by sabotageurs dying to get a photo of Penelope. Throw in a few more twists and turns and a 90-minute movie is born, delivered to our screens two years after production concluded. An ominous sign perhaps?

To answer that question: yes and no. The individual elements that make up "Penelope" are charming enough – the acting and art design in particular, but the lack of creative direction and a clumsy story mean that the movie wades in mediocrity. When I first heard of the synopsis to "Penelope" I thought it might have been adapted from a children's book but it isn't and the movie shows it. Although the plot's premise is interesting, the story lacks depth and somewhat fizzles out during the second half of the film. It wants to be quirky and honest but doesn't find the right balance between realism and fantasy. The lesson about image and self-esteem that "Penelope" seeks to convey is a worthwhile one but the build-up isn't rigorous enough. As a result the finale (and the movie, for that matter) feels much less gratifying than it should.

Yet, despite a mediocre script, Christina Ricci pulls this one off admirably. She delivers Penelope with a sympathetic conviction that makes her character at once vulnerable and strong; a Penelope who despairs at her misfortune but doesn't wallow in it. If you ask me, a pig's snout's never looked this good. James McAvoy also transcends the woeful material given to him by lending some much-needed weight to the film. He is genuine and warm, his straight-up candour and intensity a nice contrast to the blubbering fool Edward (Simon Wood) - Penelope's doltish ex-fiance who's trying to expose her by all means necessary. His accomplice is Lemon, a reporter with an old score to settle with the Wilhern matriarch. There is a nice scene of irony and compassion when Lemon, who is a dwarf, appears to emphatise with Penelope after working so hard to expose her as a freak but the arch is vague and underdeveloped. Such is the pattern for many elements of the film - promising but ultimately underachieving.

All that said, "Penelope" is by no means a bad film. The story is charming, the sets are delightful and the acting is enjoyable - all in all a happy and warm movie that's uncomplicated and easy to watch. It is a pity that the filmmakers didn't take the story and just fly away with it; if anything "Penelope" would have worked just as well or better with a lot more whimsy. But I guess the relative restrain, resulting in an understated and low-key movie, resonates with Penelope and her philosophy. She doesn't despair at her abnormal appearance but she doesn't revel in it either - for sure this is a precious and subtle character observation in a culture where many things go into extremes, be it self-loathing or self-aggrandizement. So, rather than harp on individuality and daring everyone to be different, perhaps the message "Penelope" really wants to convey is that it's okay just to be normal.

Movie Rating:

(Charming, simple and enjoyable. It isn't great, but it's good enough)

Review by Angeline Chui


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