Mark Palansky goes for Tim Burton-by-Jean-Pierre Jeunot whimsicality with Penelope, a storybook fable that never overplays its cutesiness but also fails to figure out what it wants to be. In a make-believe London populated by accents of all varieties, upper-crust socialites Jessica (Catherine O’Hara) and Franklin Wilhern give birth to a daughter named Penelope (Christina Ricci) who exits the womb with a most unfortunate facial feature: a pig snout. The deformity is the byproduct of a generations-old curse placed on the family by a witch, and an embarrassment that causes Jessica to hide her daughter from the public eye, only allowing her to be seen by prospective blue-blooded suitors who—by virtue of the curse’s stipulation that Penelope will become normal when she’s loved by “one of her own kind”—have the power to magically relieve the girl of her cosmetic affliction. The film is an inexorable trip toward lessons about accepting one’s self, and yet Palansky keeps things moderately endearing thanks to some visual panache that’s light on twee touches, and a cast that only intermittently strains for excessive sweetness. What he can’t do, however, is justify Penelope‘s 104-minute runtime, as the parable pads out its rather scrawny narrative with lethargic farce (centered around O’Hara’s cartoony callousness) and needless twists and turns that delay the eventual happily-ever-after conclusion involving a rascally card shark named Max (James McAvoy) who’s Penelope’s obvious soul mate. As a one-eyed reporter working with mean-spirited WASP Edward (Simon Woods) to nab a photo of the seemingly mythical Penelope, Peter Dinklage displays a sly comedic touch that’s far more deft than that exhibited by producer Reese Witherspoon, who makes a brief, featureless cameo as a bike messenger uninterested in judging a book by its cover. The film’s genial good humor, though, can’t mask a persistent confusion over its intended viewer, the story too blandly simplistic to appeal to grown-ups weaned on superior fairy tales, and too adult (and mildly profane) to make it suitable for young kids who might take to its moral-imparting fantasy.
- IFC Films
- 104 min
- Mark Palansky
- Leslie Caveny
- Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Catherine O'Hara, Peter Dinklage, Richard E. Grant, Simon Woods, Reese Witherspoon
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