Reviewed by C.J. Darlington
"Penelope's top-notch cast and redeeming storyline make it worth the drive if it's not in your local theater."
The premise is simple—there’s a curse on the Vaderman family, and Penelope (Christina Ricci) is caught in its cross hairs. Born with a pig’s nose and ears, she’s lived her whole life in solitude. Her overprotective parents (Catherine O’Hara and Simon Woods) can’t bear the thought of her being treated like a freak. So rather than let her develop character outside, they’ve kept her locked away inside their mansion, away from the cruel dark world. This unfortunately sends the message to their beloved daughter that looking different is the worst of all fates.
There’s only one way the curse can be broken. Once Penelope is loved by one of her own kind the pig nose will disappear. So her mother has made it her mission in life to find her daughter a suitable, blue-blooded gentleman to marry. It’s no easy task. Every guy who gets close enough to see Penelope’s nose in all its glory ends up jumping out of a window to escape. But then Max (James McAvoy) shows up with an ulterior motive, and things take a turn no one expected. Could he be the one?
At first glance you might not think a movie about an otherwise beautiful young woman with a snout could be both entertaining and inspiring. It’s true that in less skilled hands this film could’ve been comedic to the point of ridiculous. It could’ve overemphasized its message. Thankfully it’s done neither. Penelope blends humor into its fairtale premise with all the right flourishes. Catherine O’Hara in particular delivers the best dead-pan lines. Reese Witherspoon’s supporting but all too short role as a street-wise courier who befriends Penelope reminds us why America awarded her its People’s Choice Award for Favorite Female Movie Star and Favorite Leading Lady in 2008. She’s also one of Penelope’s producers, so her influence runs even deeper than her performance.
Viewers looking for romance won’t be disappointed. James McAvoy delivers yet another terrific performance here as a scruffy, down-on-his-luck gambler. This time around his accent is American, and he pulls it off well. Though why an actor with a Scottish accent in real-life would go American in a film that appears to take place in Britain is a little confusing. And am I the only one who can’t stop thinking of him as Mr. Tumnus of Narnia fame? Perhaps the stand-out role belongs to Peter Dinklage, a reporter with slightly nefarious intentions and a nagging conscience. Interestingly, Dinklage also has a Narnia connection. He’s slotted to play Trumpkin the dwarf in Prince Caspian.
Without giving too much away, let’s just say there is certainly some predictability in the film’s plot. But that’s to be expected in the romance/comedy genre. Yet Penelope manages a refreshing twist you might not see coming.
Rated PG for some language (h— and d— are uttered several times), and a few off color remarks, Penelope is still a film families can enjoy together. Maybe it won’t win an Oscar, but Penelope’s top-notch cast and redeeming storyline make it worth the drive if it’s not in your local theater. Hopefully this little gem won’t get lost in the shuffle of the blockbusters.
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C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.