Judge Paul Pritchard wishes this little piggy would squeal "Wee! Wee! Wee!" all the way home.
A Fairytale Like No Other.
After premiering at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, Penelope sat in limbo for two years, being picked up and dropped by The Weinstein Company and IFC Films. Finally picked up by Summit Entertainment; the film was released to less than stellar reviews. Now released on DVD, can this modern-day fairytale find redemption? I'm going to guess no.
Facts of the Case
The well-to-do Wilhern family carries a dark secret, one that has haunted them for generations; ever since the night a witch placed a curse on the family following their treatment of her daughter. The curse was simple, the next girl born into the family would be born with the face of a pig, and remain that way until she was accepted by one of her own.
For the next few generations, all was well, as only sons were born into the family, until the fateful day that Jessica (Catherine O'Hara, Orange County) and Franklin Wilhern (Richard E. Grant Withnail & I) were blessed with a baby girl, who they named Penelope (Christina Ricci, Speed Racer). True to the witch's word, Penelope had the nose and ears of a pig. As a result, she was kept hidden from the world, despite the best efforts of persistent journalist Lemon (Peter Dinklage, Death at a Funeral).
Some twenty-five years later, desperate to lift the curse, the Wilherns, aided by dating guru Wanda (Ronni Ancona, Stella Street), advertise for suitable beaus. Of course, upon seeing Penelope, these would-be suitors run a mile, but not before signing a gag order to keep the Wilhern secret from the public domain.
But, as with all things, eventually the truth will out, and so it comes to pass that Penelope becomes public knowledge when local fop Edward Humphrey Vanderman III (Simon Woods, Starter for 10) runs straight to the tabloids to spill the beans on his encounter with Penelope.
Needing evidence before running the story, Lemon and Vanderman III hire down-on-his-luck card shark Max (James McAvoy, Wanted) to woo Penelope in an attempt to get photographic evidence of this "pig monster." Happy to help, especially considering his escalating gambling debts, Max takes the offer and sets out to reveal Penelope to the world. But when the two finally meet, Max finds himself unable or unwilling to exploit Penelope, and the two find they share a connection that just may prove to be the making of them both.
The massive disappointment that came over me as the final credits began to roll on director Mark Palansky's Penelope was only matched by my shock that a movie possessing so much talent could fail so miserably. While the warning signs were there for all to see (the film being left on the shelf for two years), I still found myself with high hopes going into the movie. Perhaps I only have myself to blame, maybe I was suckered in by the trailers that made the movie look "magical." However, as a lover of film, is that not part of the deal? Are we not meant to get excited when a new trailer comes along, offering us a glimpse of something a little different?
The chief complaint to be made is that, infuriatingly, Penelope just never gets going. The film's central plot is surprisingly pedestrian, especially given its "fantastical" premise, resulting in the film's initially quirky setup crashing down to Earth with a bump. While the film rams home the message that accepting who you are is crucial to attaining both true happiness and the acceptance of others, everyone involved apparently forgot that they were making a feature-length movie and not a short; the outcome of this is a thin idea spread beyond breaking point. Character development is virtually non-existent; we really learn very little about these one-note creations that move from point A to point B, with little to no reasoning given. The film is lacking any natural flow, with any attempts to move the plot forward feeling terribly forced.
The film's setting also proves to be, well, troublesome. The London/New York hybrid, where dodgy American accents fill the same streets trod by the British upper class, never quite gels. Rather than the magical metropolis the filmmakers appear to have been aiming for, we're left with a shambling clutter. Although Palansky's direction ensures Penelope contains plenty of well-crafted shots that more often than not make for quite striking imagery, the film's lack of heart means that the beauty is only skin-deep. The films soundtrack is employed to similar effect, with the likes of Sigur Ros used to draw out an emotional response when the script proves incapable of achieving this itself, as is so often the case.
With a cast that includes Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Catherine O'Hara, and Reese Witherspoon, Penelope has plenty of talent on display. But through a combination of hackneyed writing and scattershot direction, it almost feels as though no two actors are in the same movie. O'Hara seems to be in a comedy, with Ricci sure she's in a Tim Burtonesque fantasy, while Witherspoon turns up with only 34 minutes left on the clock and is apparently happy to be the quirky best friend found in most any romcom.
The disc's transfer proves an excellent advertisement for Palansky's keen eye. Sharp with rich color, the films 2.35:1 transfer is a joy to look at. The soundtrack complements the picture, with the use of Sigur Ros' "Hoppipolla" being, perhaps, the highlight of the film. Understandably lacking much in terms of supplemental material, Penelope contains a brief making-of that offers very little of interest.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though it comes far too late to change anything, the final 10 minutes of Penelope are perfect, offering a cruel glimpse at what might have been. For 80 minutes I waited as the film repeatedly faltered with continual false starts. And then it happens. The last 10 minutes get it all right; from the performances to the tone, it all slips into place, and finally, the emotional connection it had been striving for all along is made. Then it ends…bummer.
Imagine Edward Scissorhands without Tim Burton's assured touch, and you might come close to the mess that is Penelope. A great cast is wasted in a film that never seems to know what it wants to be. Certainly not funny enough to be a comedy and lacking the magic to be a full-fledged fantasy, Penelope, perhaps, should have stayed on the shelf after all.
Guilty. Now squeal, piggy!
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