Penelope (Summit Entertainment, PG)

film_penelope_sm.jpgThe result is just magical enough to transport us to a universe where a girl could really be cursed with a pig nose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Penelope (Christina Ricci) is a lovely woman. She has long, glossy black hair, big, beautiful brown eyes, and a tiny waist most women would kill for. Penelope is smart, kind and witty. Unfortunately for this young heiress, though, she also has a family curse smack in the middle of her adorable face: a pig snout.

Penelope’s only hope? Finding "one of her own kind" to love her as she is. Her mother, Jessica (Catherine O’Hara), is convinced that means a young blueblood, and has paraded a series of hoity-toity types in front of her daughter for nine years with nary a taker. Until, that is, Max (James McAvoy) shows up.

Penelope takes the whole "modern-day fairytale" thing seriously, with a search for love, mistaken identity, witches, lessons to be learned and many more Disney trappings. The film is wonderfully quirky and funny, however, so those lessons never feel like homework.

Penelope looks great. It’s set in an indeterminate city which plays like a cross between London and New York. The filmmakers have managed a perfect combination of old-world and modern settings. The result is just magical enough to transport us to a universe where a girl could really be cursed with a pig nose.

The same aesthetic applies to the place where we see Penelope most: her bedroom. She’s spent most of her life hidden away from the world, so her room features every possible distraction a girl could want or need. There are the usual diversions: books, stuffed animals, various toys. And then there are the more original trimmings, like windows covered with photographs of a mountainous landscape, and a huge one-way mirror that looks onto the family sitting room so Penelope can talk to her would-be suitors before showing herself.

One of the most telling scenes in Penelope is her big escape from the family compound where she’s spent her whole life. Penelope runs through the woods behind her home and comes to a large gate. She pushes it open and literally sees the entire city revealed before her. It’s a stunning scene that immediately makes you want the city to treat her well.

Writer Leslie Caveny has filled her semi-fantasy world with characters we can identify with in spite of their sometimes outrageous situations. Mom Jessica, for instance, is like many parents dealing with the problems of their kids. She means well even while being way off base, not to mention being pretty pushy. But when it comes time to admit her mistakes, Jessica loves Penelope enough to open up.

Ricci is perfect as Penelope. She’s sad, hopeful and endearing, and you never want anything but the best for her, whether she’s stuck with the snout or not. If anything, the most unbelievable part of the film is others’ reactions to her face. There’s lots of screaming, running and jumping out of windows, when, honestly, I think we’ve all seen much uglier people than cute little Ricci with a pig nose.

McAvoy and O’Hara are also notable in their roles. O’Hara is good as Penelope’s loving but overprotective mom, while McAvoy gives off a wounded everyman-ness that’s just what Penelope needs. | Adrienne Jones

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