PenelopeBy Karen Wilson
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, some innuendo and language
Release Date: February 29, 2008
Runtime: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Plot: A vengeful witch’s curse placed on the posh Wilhern family generations ago prophesizes that the next girl born into their family will have the features of a pig. Young Penelope (Christina Ricci) is the unlucky baby girl who gets those swinish features, but with the true affection of one of her own kind the curse can be broken. Her overprotective mother (Catherine O’Hara) vows to find Penelope a match among the local bluebloods but every single one runs away in fear at the sight of her snout, except for an intriguing young man named Max (James McAvoy).
Sex/Nudity: Penelope, and her mother's, main goal in life is to find her a husband to break the curse, but there's no overt discussion of sex.
Violence/Gore: A scorned servant girl throws herself off a cliff (which results in the witch’s curse on the Wilherns), Penelope’s mother beats up a spying journalist--putting out his eye.
Profanity: None but there are wistful discussions between Penelope and Max of visiting a pub for a beer and Max suffers from a gambling addiction.
Which Kids Like It?
The fairy tale structure and gentle performances by the winning lead actors should appeal to young viewers, particularly little girls (from preschool through teen age) who love magical tales.
Will Parents Like It?
With a cast of independent cinema notables from Britain and the US, as well as a thoughtful moral about the power we give curses and pushy mothers, parents will be pleased to organize a family movie outing that includes Penelope.
Kaboose Review: When you pick up celebrity tabloids in the supermarket, Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon and her adorable children Ava and Deacon are often the subject of “normal life” pictorials, as she takes the kids grocery shopping or ice skating. So it’s not surprising that her production company Type A films would want to make family-friendly fare like Penelope. Made in 2006 and debuted to good reviews at the Toronto Film Festival that year, the filmmakers’ switched distributors when they were unhappy with the marketing campaign planned for the movie’s proposed release last summer. However the movie’s delay in getting to a theater near you shouldn’t be taken as an indication of poor quality, as Penelope is a charming little movie about looking past surface imperfections and loving yourself as you are.
Penelope Wilhern (played by former child star Christina Ricci), a quirky young girl not unlike Audrey Tautou’s Amélie, lives in a giant house smothered by a pair of wealthy, over protective parents who fear the world’s reaction to their daughter’s curse-induced, inoperable birth defect. Many years ago a vengeful witch decreed the next Wilhern girl would be pig shaped until she found love from one of her own kind. Melancholy Penelope doesn’t seem to mind her upturned nose and pointy ears too much, but she stays behind closed doors in her elaborately decorated room for the sake of her well-meaning but hysterical mother (Best in Show’s Catherine O’Hara), who fears intrusive journalists.
One such maligned reporter (Peter Dinklage) sets up a sting operation with a terrified former suitor (Simon Woods), who saw Penelope’s face and was promptly deemed crazy, in order to prove the existence of the pig nosed heiress. They arm a down-and-out blueblood Max (critical darling James McAvoy) with a hidden camera and send him into the house to capture an exclusive picture. But much to everyone’s surprise, Max and Penelope develop an unlikely friendship over chess and musical instruments. Despite their rapport, Max mysteriously refuses to marry Penelope and the heartbroken girl wraps her offending nose in a scarf and runs away to the city in search of a new life.
Penelope scores heavy on the whimsy scale, with its overly wise voiceover, twee production design and eccentric characters. However sincere performances by Ricci and McAvoy keep the twisting plot from ending up too saccharine. Producer Witherspoon also makes a brief appearance as Penelope’s brusque sidekick Annie, who helps the coddled Penelope come into her own in the big city and learn to love herself imperfections and all.
Directed by: Mark Palansky
Cast: Christina Ricci (Penelope Wilhern), James McAvoy (Max), Catherine O’Hara (Jessica Wilhern), Richard E. Grant (Franklin Wilhern), Reese Witherspoon (Annie), Peter Dinklage (Lemon), Simon Woods (Edward Vanderman, Jr.)
Karen Wilson is a freelance writer living in New York City.