“Penelope” a fairy tale for the easily appeased
Despite a cast full of talented actors and a worthy message for its pre-teen directed audience, “Penelope” lacks smarts, laughs and most egregiously, depth. And mom, before you start writing that letter of complaint…I know you want an inoffensive and “good message” film you can take your daughter to see. But please read on before you break out your poison pen.
First of all, I hear you sister. What’s not to like about a two-for-one “Beauty and the Beast” type of tale-that is, a story about the titular character (Christina Ricci, who I keep thinking will make better movies than she does) having internal beauty but born with beastly pig ears and snout?
Penelope’s overbearing mother (Catherine O’ Hara, trying too hard for laughs here) lines up dozens of potential suitors in the hope that one will fall in love with her daughter and break a generations-old curse, thus removing the aforementioned ugliness.
One by one the wealthy “bluebloods” visit the castle where Penelope has lived all of her 25 years, and one by one they jump out a second story window upon catching a glimpse of our piggish heroine. Sure, it’s a fairy tale. But the film’s first mistake is not making Penelope hideous enough-couldn’t the filmmakers have Nanny Mcpheed her or something?
Only Max (a pre-“Atonement” James McAvoy) hangs around after talking to Penelope through a one way glass and not hurling himself. The trouble is, the film never develops their relationship beyond a chess game and several trite conversations. The happy conclusion is dutifully (and predictably) presented, but remains a mystery to all but the most easily pacified idealists. Good for Max, he sees beyond Penelope’s garish exterior. Apparently, we’re supposed to see the virtue in Penelope overlooking Max’s penchant for gambling, drinking and squandering his wealthy heritage? Ah, romance.
The quirky setting–an ambiguous time period with a London-esque feel–and a diligent ensemble that includes Peter Dinklage (as an eye-patched newsman), Simon Woods (a would-be fianc?), and Reece Witherspoon (as Penelope’s only friend) work to keep things interesting. But they can’t lift the film to a level anything higher than a shallow fairy tale with only worthy intentions as an attribute. For some relieved parents that and its PG rating may be enough.
Rated PG for thematic elements, some innuendo and language.