Home Arts Penelope will float your boat

Penelope will float your boat

By Archives February 26, 2008

Once upon a time in the 19th century, the Wilherns, a very wealthy family who wanted to keep their blood as blue as a blueberry, denied the marriage between their son and a lowly servant girl.
Unfortunately, the servant girl’s mother was a witch who cursed the family — the first girl born would have the face of a pig. Like most curses it has only one cure, to be loved by one of her own for who she is. Unluckily for Penelope (Christina Ricci), she is that girl.
She is hidden from the world by her mother Jessica (Catherina O’Hara) who orchestrates a matchmaking attempt by offering a hefty dowry to whomever will marry her daughter, snout and all, in hopes that the curse will be broken and her daughter will finally become the woman she was meant to be. Alas, the matchmaking attempt always results in the would-be-suitors running away at first sight.
The plot feels contrived because the snout is anything but grotesque. It actually comes off as cute, so it’s hard to understand why suitors run so quickly and so far. The film is set in a London populated by mostly Americans, and where one of the main locations is an Irish pub. Adding to the confusion is British actor Richard E. Grant (as Penelope’s father) who puts on an American accent, as does the Scottish James McAvoy, Penelope’s love interest. Although the trailer and many posters feature Reese Witherspoon front and center, she’s in a small role as a female friend. Witherspoon’s production company, Type A, was one of the film’s producers.
The film’s turning point is when a would-be-suitor (Simon Woods) manages to escape without signing a non-disclosure agreement, and goes straight to the press, where the only one to believe him is Lemon (Peter Dinklage), a hard-boiled reporter out for the story of his life. Enter the love interest, as they hire Max Campion (McAvoy), a broke blueblood, to get the scoop and pictures to prove Penelope exists.
Penelope is clearly a gender spin on Beauty and the Beast, as well as a story of girl power. Although charming and well-intentioned, that isn’t enough to keep this film afloat. Its constant positive messages of “beauty is on the inside,” “the world is beautiful” and “different is beautiful” were needlessly forced throughout the film, enough to make most adult viewers nauseated. It felt like it was trying to be a magical tale akin to a Tim Burton film or the television hit Pushing Daisies, but it falls short.
If you liked Ella Enchanted or 13 Going on 30 this might be worth the cost a ticket.