Made two years ago, Penelope was shelved by the studio for some unknown reason. I suspect they were unsure how to market a film about a girl cursed with the face of a pig. I also suspect that the marketing uncertainty continued right through to its release, as I cannot recall seeing much in the advertising for the film. This includes never seeing a trailer or a poster at a theater, and only seeing a commercial once or twice for it.
Obviously, this lack of promotion will certainly hurt its big screen prospects, although I have a feeling that an audience will be found once it hits DVD. Why do I think this? Easy — it is actually a good movie and once the positive word of mouth spreads, it will likely be too late for its theatrical gross, but will work toward giving its DVD release a bump. Still, I wish it well for the time it is on the big screen as it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.
Penelope was a late addition to my viewing schedule for the weekend, and time well spent. It is a light-hearted film that goes down easy and builds up a healthy dose of romantic fantasy that should play well with a younger set. However, its appeal is not limited to the obvious tween target, as evidenced by my enjoyment. It transcends its audience and brings hope and light to romantics of every age. No, it is not perfect — there are moments where the relationships take large leaps of logic, but it is so light and fun that it is easy to overlook moments such as these.
As I sat there and watched Penelope's story play out as she searched for happiness and fought to have an independent life, there was one movie that kept springing to mind. It is another fairy tale fantasy of a young man cursed with an incomplete body who lives as a recluse until his discovery by a kind woman and subsequent falling in love with a young woman. That film is Edward Scissorhands. No, it is not exactly the same, and the feel is not a perfect fit, but they are in the same vein, revolving around someone hidden away from society searching for themselves and for a life they had never had.
Penelope is the story of Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci), a young woman afflicted by a curse placed on the blue-blood Wilhern family many generations earlier. It was laid down when a male Wilhern cut off a relationship with a young woman of a lower social class. It just so happens that the woman's mother is a witch, and rather than exact her revenge on the immediate object, she gives the family a longer lasting paranoia over who will have the next daughter. Whoever that woman is, her daughter will have the distinctive features of a pig.
When that day arrives, and the pig-faced babe is born, her parents (Catherine O'Hara and Richard E. Grant) are forced to hide her away from the prying eyes of the public — a public that is always eager for the latest gossip on the rich and famous members of society. The Wilherns did all they could to keep her from unwanted publicity, while also looking for a cure to the curse, which would be broken when she is accepted by one of her own kind. This is where the film begins to pick up a little bit of mementum.
Penelope is handed a long succession of rich potential suitors, each of whom runs at the very sight of the lass. However, there is one who does no such thing — Max, who enters the Wilhern home under false pretenses, but whose motives change quickly upon their first, unseeing introduction.
Much of the action is spurred by the relentless pursuit of the pig-faced girl by a reporter named Lemon (Peter Dinklage), a chase that has consumed much of his life. His pursuit leads to his proposition to Max and his subsequent entry into the Wilhern home. The other side of the story has Penelope fleeing from her cushy captivity and exploring the wilds of the real world.
The film is sold by the performances at all levels. At the top is Christina Ricci, who plays up this wonderful innocence and wonder combined with an exasperation that makes her extremely likable, and pig-nose or not, still quite adorable. Then there is the over-protective nature of her mother, played by Catherine O'Hara, who is over the top and wild in her efforts to protect. Peter Dinklage, as the reporter, is as stong as usual. He always gives good performances. That brings us to James McAvoy, whose Hollywood stock has been on a steady rise of late. He gives a believable performance as a compulsive gambler who has just experienced a life-altering change. I guess it should also be mentioned that Reese Witherspoon has a supporting role as a young, rebellious woman who helps introduce Penelope to the world; this is also her first film as a producer.
Bottom line. In the end, first time feature director Mark Palansky and first time writer Leslie Caveny have crafted a fine film. It tells a story of believing in oneself and liking someone for who they are. It really is quite enjoyable and well worth spending some time with.