“Penelope” is a fairy tale that’s so bracing and undesirable, the only way to enjoy it is to plug your ears. It’s noxious whimsy blared at top volume, glazed all over a fable hardly worth a short movie, much less 90 minutes of demanding, botched storytelling.A curse that was placed on the Wilhern family a century ago has now found a home with the birth of Penelope (Christina Ricci). Born with pig features, Penelope is immediately hidden from view by her overprotective parents (Catherine O’Hara and Richard E. Grant), with hopes that one day marriage to a “blue blood” will break the curse forever. Now a young woman, Penelope is in the midst of repelling suitor after suitor until she meets Max (James McAvoy), a gambling addict with his own reasons to be kind to the disfigured woman.
“Penelope” is not subtle, but whether this was a conscious decision on the part of the production or a demonstration of Mark Palansky’s overbearing direction is open for debate. I vote the latter; the picture is an obnoxious molding of paper-thin fantasy and shrill comedy, hurriedly rushing through a story that is riddled with a lack of characterization less high-profile pictures would be crucified for.
There’s no time to enjoy anything “Penelope” has to offer, due in great part to Palansky’s scatterbrain direction of the picture, which uses glops of stardust to cover the disturbing lack of humanity presented here. His camera swoops around and shots are heavily considered, but there’s little effort offered to the actors with logistical, ingratiating romantic swells. The film is in a hurry to hit every note of Leslie Caveny’s curdled screenplay, forgoing any opportunity to tie the film together organically. “Penelope” is a sadly manipulative picture, absent the level of charm fairy tales should require.
I suppose “Penelope” would be pleasurable if the title character looked more like a pig and less like a burn victim; the talented European actors (McAvoy, Grant, and Nick Frost) weren’t all trying to pass off asinine American accents; producer Reese Witherspoon didn’t show up for a pointless supporting part to boost the sickly star power of the picture; the swoon between Penelope and Max was allowed just a moment to thicken before exploited to sickening results; and the story didn’t require an “evil” suitor so horrified by Penelope he hungers for revenge.There’s so much visual and narrative clutter to “Penelope” that it doesn’t take long for the film to buckle, limping the rest of the way with displays of overtly-precious cinematography and lackluster acting, inching to a payoff lacking any sincerity. “Penelope” isn’t magical or timeless, it’s insulting.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2007 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.