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
Official Website: http://www.penelopethemovie.com/
Opening Day: 19 June 2008
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.
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.
"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?
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.
(Charming, simple and enjoyable. It isn't great, but
it's good enough)
Review by Angeline Chui