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Penelope: Fanciful But Not Fantastic

There are some intriguing issues buried within the story of Penelope: what it means for a woman to love and accept herself the way she is, the way beauty ideals are — sometimes cruelly — passed down from mother to daughter, society's eagerness to vilify those who are different and then, just as quickly, to embrace them as "cute" upon discovering that they're harmless. These things are touched on, but mostly with a glazing brush, leaving the pretty film with adorable people lacking anything resembling "oomph."

The story follows Penelope Wilhern who, due to a curse put on her wealthy socialite family long ago, was born with a pig nose. In order to break the curse, she must find "one of her own" (i.e. a "blue blood") to love her just as she is and marry her. Only then will the spell break and her nose take on a normal shape. Desperate to break the curse and have a normal daughter, Penelope's mother (Catherine O'Hara) devotes her life to finding Penelope a husband, but the men who meet Penelope keep jumping out the window at the sight of her. Meanwhile, a one-eyed journalist determined to get a photo of "the pig-faced girl" and a selfish blue-blooded young man pay a down-on-his-luck musician (James McAvoy) to try and woo Penelope. For more about the movie than just this plot — some spoilers ahead —


Visually, the fanciful made-up world providing the backdrop for this modern fairy tale is endearing and at times quite lovely. The performances are mostly great — I especially enjoy Reese Witherspoon in her funny, tough girl role as Penelope's friend, a wonderful departure from Witherspoon's bright and sometimes two-dimensional rom-com stuff. James McAvoy is lovable as always, and Catherine O'Hara as Penelope's hysterical mother sometimes steals the show.

My favorite performance comes from Peter Dinklage who plays the desperate journalist. Not only is he a master of deadpan humor, but he's perhaps the only person in the film who goes on any kind of identifiable emotional arc. We're supposed to be on Penelope's journey, but Ricci has a hard time fluctuating the tone of her performance beyond a steady whine. Thus, the few good performances can't make up for Ricci's low-octane delivery and a disappointing cop-out ending.

This tired, predictable ending features Penelope learning to accept herself and being rewarded with what she's always wanted. The message within this is frustrating. Penelope's final, hard-won self-acceptance, once found, is rendered useless and thrown out the window because that's when she becomes "normal." Phew! Now she no longer needs to like being different. Normal is still best. How refreshing.

Bottom line: It's a modern fairy tale that still supports age-old beauty ideals and doesn't really try anything new or interesting.


Join The Conversation
ellegirlsays ellegirlsays 9 years
I love James McAvoy! :)
californiagirlx7 californiagirlx7 9 years
I saw this movie today and I thought it was sooo cute. The concept for the story, the set design, and the costumes were all really well done (I loved Christina Ricci's clothes!). And James McAvoy was so great in this, as were most of the other characters. I wouldn't say it was entirely perfect or that the ending was very satisfying, but overall it was a really good movie.
brittanybe brittanybe 9 years
:) Thanks yiddidea!
ana-isabel ana-isabel 9 years
I really liked this movie. James McAvoy is so Hot in this movie. I also liked Reese and Christina.
ktseyf ktseyf 9 years
I guess I will add myself to the James McAvoy fan club.. =) I'm also a HUGE fan of Reese Witherspoon so I'll be interested to see how she does in this smaller, offbeat role!
aleeex aleeex 9 years
i've seen this film twice and just loved it both times. its just so adorable nothing amazing about it, just a lovely watch. and james mcavoy. its just makes it really nice and relaxing.
idawson idawson 9 years
I saw it today and thought it was adorable. I am a huge McAvoy devotee and was seeing it mainly for that reason. Overall I found it a charming tale.
RioAravwyn RioAravwyn 9 years
My roomie and I saw this tonight and it put is in such a good mood that we couldn't stop laughing hysterically at the silliest things. I thought it was very sweet and enjoyable, and I might be totally in love with James McAvoy.
malzie89 malzie89 9 years
i saw this today and thought it was quite adorable...such a sweet wont be winning any oscars but i thought it was very entertaining :)
GeriAnne1932 GeriAnne1932 9 years
I saw it this afternoon. We loved the set design, costumes, make-up...but there was some disconnect with the story and it did lack a little something. But it was cute and it was nice that it didn't take a guy falling in love with her to give her selfworth...she found it all on her own.
beingtazim beingtazim 9 years
i'll maybe see it because of reese witherspoon and christina ricci (in a movie again! yay!)...but i really don't have high expectations. :)
karisaamy karisaamy 9 years
For me it's one to rent
kpatel1980 kpatel1980 9 years
I'm not too sure about this movie. I think I'll catch on DVD.
nicachica nicachica 9 years
too bad, i thought it looked like it would be a good movie. i liked how Shrek was the one that turned the ideal upside down and made ugly the new pretty. :)
DreaAST DreaAST 9 years
This doesn't look like it would interest me.
yiddidea yiddidea 9 years
:ROTFL: brittanybe!
brittanybe brittanybe 9 years
Must not speak ill of anything even REMOTELY connected to James McAvoy. This includes Scotland, Fauns, and men who marry women 9 years older than them. Also includes Penelope. PS- Since it's leap day: JAMES MCAVOY, WILL YOU MARRY ME?
Linda-McP Linda-McP 9 years
I'm looking forward to seeing this; the cast is great, especially James McAvoy. Guess I wasn't expecting it to be more than what it is, so I won't be disappointed.
yiddidea yiddidea 9 years
My current obsession with James McAvoy has me seeing this movie tonight, despite any and all mediocre reviews I read. ;)
jasmint jasmint 9 years
I've been waiting for this movie for years! What do you want to bet it's release kept getting delayed on account of the studio's wanting to change it? It may have been better before. I'll still see it.
creamytofu creamytofu 9 years
i actually was looking forward to this movie, but i am still going to see it. Im a sucker for modern fairytales.
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