- Rated PG
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Summit Entertainment
Reviewed by David Medsker
enelope” made its debut at the Toronto Film Festival. The 2006 Toronto Film Festival. Not a good sign that the movie has languished this long without being released. The story gets better, though: the movie is coming out smack dab in between the most recent projects from its lead actors, one of which was a Best Picture nominee (James McAvoy, “Atonement”) and the other is one of the summer’s most anticipated movies (Christina Ricci, “Speed Racer”). Mighty convenient, that timing. The movie surely is a train wreck, right?
Surprisingly, it’s not. While it paints with far too broad a brush and loses its way in the second act, the story at its core is a sweet one, and the two leads, plus some big-time scene stealing by Peter Dinklage, keep the fairy tale just grounded enough for it to work.
Ricci is Penelope Wilhern, a blue-blood aristocrat and victim of a terrible curse. Generations ago, one of her relatives fell in love with, and then broke the heart of, one of the servant girls, whose mother just happened to be the town witch. (Every town had its own witch back then, it appears.) The witch declared that the next daughter born to a Wilhern would have a pig’s nose, so they would know her horror and heartbreak. Only by earning the true love of a blue blood would the curse be broken. Until then, Penelope remains a pig girl.
Penelope’s mother Jessica (Catherine O’Hara) indeed feels the witch’s shame, to the point where she faked Penelope’s death as an infant so the press would leave them alone. Investigative reporter Lemon (Peter Dinklage), who lost an eye trying to snap a picture of the rumored pig girl years before, wants to publish a picture of the grown-up Penelope as retaliation for his disfigurement. He and fellow blue blood Edward Vanderman Jr. (Simon Woods) recruit down and out blue blood Max Campion (McAvoy) to snap the picture for them in return for some much-needed cash. Max reluctantly takes the job, but soon finds the task more difficult than he imagined.
The set design in “Penelope” is quite lovely, mixing early 20th century London with modern-day New York. If only they had put as much effort into the story. The dialogue is actually pretty snappy (“Come with me. I need to pee and I’m not leaving you alone with the phones.”), but the story does both too much and too little. It has a good thing going between Penelope and Max, but before you know it, the movie turns into “Penelope: Pig in the City,” temporarily casting Max off and throwing the housebound Penelope into the real world. Was this done so they could get Penelope and Reese Witherspoon’s delivery girl Annie in the same room? Perhaps. Witherspoon co-produced the movie, and surely agreed to take the part – a role any no-name actress could have played – because it was the only way to secure funding. It’s a pretty backwards approach to moviemaking, if that’s the case, and if it isn’t the case, well, the move doesn’t really work either way.
Another thing that undermines the movie is Penelope herself. She’s the cutest pig-nosed girl you’ve ever seen, and the idea of these blue-blood suitors cartoonishly running for their lives at the sight of her is a tad silly. At least one of them wouldn’t have run, right? She looks like Christina Ricci, for crying out loud. O’Hara does not help matters by overplaying her part. A little less wacky and a little more conniving would have done a world of good. Thank goodness, then, for Peter Dinklage, who gives the movie a much-needed dose of sly humor and steals the show in the process.
As oft-delayed movies go (“Nightwatch,” anyone?), “Penelope” is absolutely better than you’d expect, though is not without some considerable flaws. At its core is a great message for young girls about loving themselves, and that notion helps the movie overcome some of its unnecessary obstacles.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Considering the fact that the movie spent nearly two years on the shelf before Summit saved it from purgatory – and made a mere $10 million at the box office – it should be no surprise that the DVD comes with only a small amount of bonus features, two to be precise. There is a cute featurette about the making of the movie, and a trailer for the animated feature “Fly Me to the Moon.” Oh, and you also get the choice of watching it in full screen or widescreen. That’s it. Enjoy.