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.
“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.