Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 23 November 2008
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
A generations-old curse on the Wilhern family dooms the title character to be born with a snout and the ears of a pig. Although they fit quite nicely into her dark hair, dark-eyed countenance, suitors run from her as if possessed by some unclean spirit. Numerous mansion windows are broken, and even the intrepid butler, in bright red running shoes is at a loss to catch them (to sign a gag order). If you haven’t guessed already from the words “mansion” and “butler”, the blighted family is quite wealthy.
Such is Penelope’s (Christina Ricci) plight, a poor, innocent maiden of 25. At least she’s handling it better than her mother, Jessica, (Catherine O’Hara) a shrieking hysteric at times, and smiling time bomb at others. Cosmetic surgery cannot fix the condition because her aorta runs through the snout; the poor little rich girl would bleed to death. Jessica fakes her daughter’s death to spare her the curiosity hounds and tabloid paparazzi. Penelope’s father, Franklin, (James E. Grant) is resigned to the family’s fate and at least provides some male stability for his daughter.
Penelope is good at emptying whole rooms of possible grooms. There is a monstrous urban legend about her kept alive by one-eyed midget reporter Lemon (Peter Dinklage) and his blue-blood sidekick, Edward (Simon Woods) a former suitor so traumatized by the sight of Penelope that he believes her to be a monster. That’s when Lemon recruits American gambler Max (James McAvoy) to pose as a suitor to get a picture of the unfortunate girl. She has her own world, which becomes much too small after meeting Max on one side of a secret drawing room mirror. Max is supposed to be different from all the others. No, really. Then complications set in, separating the two. Is Max just in it for gambling money or is he sincere? The suspense will underwhelm you.
After yet another disappointing relationship try, Penelope covers her snout with a scarf, and ventures out past her privileged gates into the city to have a coveted beer on tap, her own personal symbol of newfound independence. She meets biker chick Annie (Reese Witherspoon) who is a good Pied Piper of independence herself. She also agrees to being photographed by Lemon to set the record straight; no fangs, no catastrophic disfigurement – just quirky Penelope with a hint of pig about her, steeped in charm.
Penelope becomes a cult favorite, an icon, the darling of society. Will she find a husband who will marry her and break the curse? Will men with bad motives and dollar signs in their eyes suddenly made a move on the girl, pretending to be hog wild for her? Is the Pope German? Suitors will now vie to be the one who will bring home this bacon. And what about Max?
This is Mark Palansky’s (Shutter) directorial debut of a feature-length film. He tries to construct a modern fairytale showing how foolish it is to be superficial, only to reinforce the notion with his characters’ ridiculous behavior. Penelope is never repulsive, just different, yet society cannot handle any type of deviation from the norm, and the poor girl is made to be the freak by the likes of a one-eyed midget. Nothing odd there.
Writer Leslie Caveny (Everybody Loves Raymond) does not fare well with dialogue for such an extended story, although the neat wrap-up endemic to sit-coms is alive and well here and you can see it coming from miles away.
There is some redemption in the way the curse is broken, but it comes too late and the damage is already done with the message conveyed; physical beauty is everything, especially for a female; marriage is a type of salvation for women.
Penelope reinforces the notion that for a girl anyway, there’s a much higher premium placed on how you look than who you are. You must qualify for a mate. If your ancestor pissed off a witch, oh, well. Start collecting rubber bands and pieces of string too short to do anything with. Gather your companion cats by the dozens – true love will not come your way. If you are not fair of face, life will treat you unfairly. Unfortunately, there is no good resolution to this.
Christina Ricci projects a wide-eyed innocence as the snouty rich girl. James McAvoy plays an American for no reason other than to show off his vocal chords. Catherine O’Hara is a contained bolt of lightning, always on the verge of shrieking, in perpetual denial and never satisfied with any outcome. Peter Dinklage has a good sense of humor, playing Lemon as straight as can be, black eye patch and all. British and American accents abound, although we’re never sure where the story takes place. That is supposed to lend itself to the fairytale quality of the film, which is indeed colorful but flat in dialogue and pacing.
Reese Witherspoon (also a producer of the film) plays against type as the streetwise leather-clad biker who shows Penelope a bit of the world. Richard E. Grant is sympathetic as Penelope’s long-suffering father.
This may not have you running for the theater door, but many impressionable young women may run for a real rhinoplasty to avoid the same perceived fate, cursed not by a witch but by their own carefully manufactured insecurities. Pig-malion, anyone?