Review: ‘Penelope’ better than it looks (and that’s a bold statement)
I can’t take credit for the best summary of “Penelope,” I’ve heard, but it came right here from the Action desk: Christina Ricci might taste like pumpkin pie, but I wouldn’t know because I wouldn’t kiss the pig-nosed …
Ricci playing the title character with a pig nose ” the result of a family curse ” is the central gag of “Penelope,” and the factor that makes the heiress’s suitors gag. In order to make her character believable, Ricci better be one charming …
Thing is, she is. And yes, the pig nose is off-putting, and you’re so sure it’s not going to be attached to her face at the end of the movie that you almost factor out the snout.
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“Penelope” languished in postproduction for a couple of years ” it actually predates “Atonement,” the breakout movie for co-star James McAvoy ” usually a kiss of death. (Though movies that hit the theaters with no screening for critics, though, seem to be uniformly worse.) And maybe it’s no “Princess Bride,” but it’s a sweeter, funnier, more complete work than the first installment of the Lemony Snicket cycle.
The curse holds that Penelope will lose the nose when she attracts a mate of noble blood who truly loves her. Franklin Wilhern (actor Richard E. Grant) is a suitor chasing Penelope’s fortune who balks when he sees the nose (inspiring a quick, truly scary and later very funny flashback). Wilhern and pint-sized paparazzo, “Lemon,” set up destitute blue-blood Max to penetrate Penelope’s inner circle.
I don’t know if the role of Lemon originally called for a little person, but veteran actor Peter Dinklage renders that question irrelevant. The first time I saw McAvoy was in “The Last King of Scotland,” and as I noted before, the lighter the fare, the better the Scottish actor holds up. Mark Palansky frankly does much better than I expected from a director who earned many of his credits in the Michael Bay bombs “Pearl Harbor” and “The Island.” And Reece Witherspoon shows a deft touch as producer as well as showing up in a role that’s basically a cameo.
As a PG-rated fairy tale, there are limitations to how darky funny “Penelope” can get, but the acting, casting and directing are spot-on. You just have to look past a few little flaws.
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