widescreen – Penelope, a childish boar


Sometimes a story is just a story. A prime example is Penelope, a modern day parable starring Christina Ricci as a pig-faced girl. The movie aspires to be one of those cute, quirky romantic comedies, but its so sloppily sewn together, it never quite congeals. Its like Babe without the magic, or Beauty and the Beast without the romantic rush.

The blame for this pigsty lies entirely with director Mark Palansky, who gradually loses control of his movie as it grunts along.

The first half hour or so seems marginally competent, as we are introduced to Penelope Wilhern and her porcine plight. A curse was put on Penelopes blue-blood British family years ago by an old witch, retaliating for the rejection of her own daughter.

As the curse goes, the first girl born into the family will sport a pigs snout and ears. And the curse wont be broken until the day shes accepted by one of her own kind, which does not mean another pig-faced person, but rather an upper-crust suitor offering marriage.

Penelopes mother Jessica (Catherine OHara) hides her daughter away until the girl is 18, then brings on the men who mostly flee at the sight of pig-girl.

Eventually, the overly-complicated plot unearths for Penelope a love interest in Max (James McAvoy), a young blue-blood who has squandered his inheritance and needs money for his gambling addiction.

The movie seriously deteriorates when Penelope, the lower half of her face concealed by a scarf, ventures out into the real world and learns how to win friends and influence people.

She befriends a Vespa-scooting courier named Annie, who talks tough and likely deals meth on the side. Reese Witherspoon brings only the barest minimum to the role, as though her body was present but her mind was far, far away.
When Penelope is eventually revealed to the world, the rest of the story plays out with an obviousness that would insult a newborn. Will the curse be broken? Will Penelopes mother calm down? Will Penelope ever reconnect with Max, her one true love?

These questions raised by the movie are answered in the most cumbersome fashion imaginable. Director Palansky finds himself way over his head in pig-slop from which he or Penelope cannot seem to emerge.

Those who would like to consider Penelope the perfect family outing might think again. The movie with its allusions to poker, smoking, drinking and prison is much too adult-oriented for small fry. But its too infantile for anyone older than the age of 8. And my guess is that even eight-year-olds would find it dull and dreary.

So Penelope isnt really suitable for anyone. Its a boar (pun intended).