Saturday, March 29, 2008
Director: Mark Palansky
Cast: Christina Ricci, James McAvoy
Peter Dinklage, Catherine O'Hara, Richard E. Grant
Simon Woods, Reese Witherspoon
Cute in concept, but flawed in execution, "Penelope" is a fractured fairy tale that tells the story of the title girl (Ricci), a wealthy heiress who inherited a curse from one of her ancestors and was born with a pig snout. The curse can only be cured by one of her own kind (whatever that means which gives the plot one of its biggest flaws).
Her parents (Grant and O'Hara) faked her death, have kept her hidden in their home all her life and have hired a dating service agent (Ronni Ancona) to find her a suitor who will marry her and be able to break the curse, but most of them run away the minute they see Penelope.
One of them (Woods), who is deemed as insane after revealing what he saw, teams up with a local reporter (Dinklage) to uncover the story.
They hire a gambler (McAvoy) to infiltrate Penelope's home and take her picture for the world to see, but obviously romance rises when these two strangers begin to see past their shortcomings.
With a plot that tries to cover too many current issues, what remains most poignant besides the whole "inner beauty" thing is how easy is to obtain fame nowadays.
Penelope becomes a celebrity only because she's different (that she's rich could be a direct comparison to specific cases) but even she becomes aware of how unjustified her fame is.
And to be honest, Ricci puts so much heart into Penelope, that the snout isn't really something absolutely hideous.
Perhaps the film was trying to prove how demanding society has become with minor flaws, or they chose to provide her with the wrong animal part to make a stronger case.
Most of the cast is terrific, especially Grant as the cool father and Jason Thornton as the family butler who doesn't get much lines but steals every scene he's in.
Producer Witherspoon gets a small role and an opportunity to shine without overpowering the lead actress, with a character that works like some sort of urban fairy godmother and is filled with more life and glee than most of the film ever lives up to.
Sadly the romance between the leads is never engaging, probably because the film makes us fall for Penelope and not even want the curse to disappear, so when the plot begins to suggest it will take a man to fulfill her, it loses the girl power sass it feeds itself from to inspire others.
The visuals are stunning, think of "Amélie" meets Tim Burton, but the final product itself feels lacking in something.
You gotta give them point of course for the final sequence in which we're forced to try and think what was this all really about.
Even when it fails in so many ways, a film that has the guts to question its own existence with a surprising innocence and a bit tongue in cheek self awareness reminds us what fairy tales were invented for in the first place.