Penelope (2008)
Penelope (2008)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: February 29th, 2008 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Mark Palansky Actors: Christina Ricci, Richard E. Grant, Catherine O’Hara, Ronni Ancona, Simon Woods, James McAvoy, Peter Dinklage, Paul Herbert, Simon Chandler

 


 

A

rather childish blend of comedy, romance, and the predictable unearthing of morals and prejudices, “Penelope” tells the story of a horribly disfigured woman searching for a mythical cure to a monstrous curse. Essentially a reversed or swapped take on “Beauty and the Beast,” the film manages to be delightful only occasionally, but as revolting as a pig-faced mutant during much of the character development. And the progression of the romance plot is similarly unable to find any new ground, stuck in the generic nature of its bland derivation.

When a misguided Wilhern blueblood falls in love with a common young woman, and then backs out of a marriage to save his noble name, the distraught girl commits suicide. Her furious mother (who is conveniently a witch) places a curse on the first Wilhern girl to be delivered into the bloodline. After generations of nothing but male heirs to the sizable estate, Penelope (Christina Ricci) is finally born, a girl with the grotesque ears and nose of a pig. Penelope is locked away and raised alone, as her parents continually worry about how the cruel outside world might react to her abnormalities. Though some believe in the legend and others do not, Penelope’s only hope of undoing her hideous bovine appendages is to find a fellow blueblood who will love and accept her as she is.

As she learns to live with constant rejection, her parents struggle to keep her away from the media and other people, first by faking her death, and then by holing her away in their luxurious mansion. To preserve the wealth in the family, her parents attempt to marry her off with a huge dowry, but suitor after suitor flees in terror. One-eyed photographer Lemon (Peter Dinklage) uses sniveling aristocrat Edward Vanderman (Simon Woods) and down-on-his-luck gambler Max Campion (James McAvoy) to get a picture of the freak for use in his newspaper. Bu when Penelope runs away, Max finds himself curiously falling for the girl, even when no one else can bear to look in her direction.

Is this film really about looking beyond the physical features of a person to discover their inner beauty? Or is it that rich people are terrible? Whatever the case may be, it’s difficult to believe in the message about inner beauty when Christina Ricci manages to be rather attractive, even with the pig makeup. The themes of the film are often lost amongst the bits of comedy, which rarely evoke laughter, and the shallow character development that causes these paper-thin personas to regularly lose steam. The blossoming romance between Max and Penelope is amateurishly insincere and the dialogue that accompanies their flirtations is entirely farfetched. Regardless of the ethical lesson, the execution in storytelling is notably disorderly. Right from the get-go, “Penelope” feels like a live-action recreation of a motif from “Shrek,” in which the comical green man decides Fiona is perfect as an ogre, despite the audience seeing her primarily as a human woman.

The large amount of cameos in “Penelope” almost makes this film worth watching, although some of them are just obscure enough that they might not fall into the category of a cameo. Nick Frost from “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead” shows up, as does Lenny Henry from the 1990s BBC show “Chef!” Supporting roles consist of Richard E. Grant from “Withnail and I” fame, here playing Penelope’s father, and Catherine O’Hara (“Best in Show,” “For Your Consideration”) as her mother. Simon Woods does an excellent job as the whiney aristocrat who will do anything to preserve his high-class name, and Ricci is unquestionably pleasant to watch. But, sadly, the project works better as a thought-provoking concept than a feature-length movie, as the important idea is quickly buried by the painfully mediocre dialogue and commonplace plot turns.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10