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Penelope (3/10)

by Tony Medley

First time director Mark Palansky has taken a first time movie script by Leslie Caveny that intends to tell a modern fable with a good moral and stretched it out so that 90 minutes seems more like 900 minutes. This would have been a good half hour sitcom (which is where Caveny cut her teeth on “Everybody Loves Raymond, “Mad About You,” and others), but there is far too much filler inserted to make it last three times that long. Sitting through a film as slow as this is physically painful. I was exhausted when it was over and my exhaustion lasted for the rest of the day. Maybe that's why it has apparently been in the can for two years before being released.

Worse, Palansky and Caveny don’t have the courage of their convictions. The story is about a young woman, Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci), who is born with a curse of looking like a pig. The only problem is that she doesn’t look like a pig. The only makeup they gave her was a pig’s nose. Other than that, she looks exactly like a movie star named Christina Ricci. But when all the men who are courting her for the money run away and jump out of windows to escape the horror of her ugly face, they appear ridiculous because she’s not a monster. Actually, except for her nose she is quite attractive. Had they really wanted to make their point they would have made her look like Quasimodo’s mother.

Well, the simple story is that the curse will be on her until she meets a man who will marry her for herself, not for her looks. That’s a nice moral, but it turns out that’s not the moral at all.

Thrown into the mix are Johnny/Max (James McAvoy) who likes her but can’t get beyond her looks, Edward Vanderman (Simon Woods), who is cruel to her but is forced to offer to marry her by his father. There are also a selfish, overbearing mother, Jessica (Catherine O’Hara, who gives a sparkling performance), and Lemon (Peter Dinklage), who will do anything to get a picture of the pig girl. So you’ve got a relatively good guy, Johnny/Max, and three bad guys, Jessie, Edward, and Lemon.

Reese Witherspoon is a co-producer, so she inserted herself in the film near the end. She portrays a world-wise babe who befriends Penelope. Reese should have stayed on the sidelines, but this film probably needed her in the credits as a star to draw an audience. It’s probably one of the weakest performances of her career. Thankfully, it’s not much more than a cameo.

This is a sweet story that should have been a half hour TV show, but the film is far too long and slow for it to have any meaning or much entertainment value.

February 21, 2008