Penelope Wilhern, born to wealthy socialites, is afflicted by a secret family curse that can only be broken when she is loved by "one of her own kind." Hidden away in the family's majestic home, she is subjected to meeting a string of blue-bloods through her parent's futile attempt to marry her off and break the curse. Each suitor is...
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Penelope Wilhern, born to wealthy socialites, is afflicted by a secret family curse that can only be broken when she is loved by "one of her own kind." Hidden away in the family's majestic home, she is subjected to meeting a string of blue-bloods through her parent's futile attempt to marry her off and break the curse. Each suitor is instantly enamored with Penelope (and her sizable dowry)… until the curse is revealed. When a willing mate cannot be found, mischievous tabloid reporter Lemon hires Max to pose as a prospective suitor in hopes of snapping a photo of the mysterious Penelope. Max, who is really a down-on-his-luck gambler, finds himself drawn to Penelope and not wanting to expose or disappoint her, disappears and leaves Lemon in the lurch. Fed up by this latest betrayal and determined to live life on her own terms, Penelope breaks free from her family and goes out into the world in search of adventure--curse be damned.
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In this sweet but very slight modern-day fairy tale, a plucky Christina Ricci seeks out a husband who believes beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That's easier said than done, especially when you have a snout instead of a nose.
And you thought the Frog Prince had it bad. Our cruelly taunted "pig-faced" damsel in distress (Ricci) requires more than just a knight in shining armor. He must also be a blue blood--like her--who wants to marry the heiress. Then, and only then, will a generations-old family curse be reversed and Penelope's snout be magically transform into a nose even a supermodel would covet. Hidden away from the world by her loving but slightly embarrassed parents (Richard E. Grant and Catherine O'Hara), Penelope now wants to lead a normal life. But despite the best matchmaking efforts of Penelope's mother, she remains young, not so free, but definitely available. Prospective husbands line up to meet Penelope in the hopes of claiming her sizeable dowry, but as soon as they lay eyes on her, that's all, folks. Then there's Max (James McAvoy). Not that Max has seen Penelope. In an effort not to scare him off, Penelope remains behind a one-way mirror while she's courted by this kindhearted suitor. What she doesn't know is that Max--who's gambled away his family's fortune--is also only in it for the money. He's being paid to take Penelope's photo by a sleazy tabloid reporter (Peter Dinklage) with an ax to grind. When all is revealed, a hurt Penelope trots off to the city to live the life she's always wanted to experience for herself. Only she doesn't realize that Max harbors feelings for her. If you were Max, how much would you bet that true love prevails?
Admit it, you're curious as to how Ricci--one of Hollywood's most unconventional beauties--looks like as a freak-show attraction. After a few minutes with her face hidden from view, Ricci's prosthetic snout is revealed in all its porcine glory. Honestly, she's adorable in a Miss Piggy-gone-Wednesday Adams way. But a sunny Ricci rightfully portrays Penelope as a wounded soul whose confidence and resourcefulness masks the pain caused by her physical abnormality and the rejection she endures. Sparks do fly between Ricci and McAvoy, who reveals a roguish charm that for obvious reasons are absent from the more dramatic performances he gives in Atonement and The Last King of Scotland. Penelope suggests McAvoy has what it takes to pull off a Hugh Grant-style rom-com. O'Hara is hilariously harried as Penelope's well-meaning but unintentionally interfering mother, though she does manage to make her somewhat sympathetic. Dinklage's post-Station Agent career has found him playing many nasty fellows, but he slowly and slyly reveals that there's more to his vindictive eye-patched journo than we first suspect. Perhaps in an attempt to protect her investment, Penelope producer Reese Witherspoon makes a fleeting appearance as Ricci's motor-mouthed gal pal. She's quite amusing, but her role is superfluous. Penelope also does it bit to keep many familiar British faces gainfully employed, but that's not to say Richard E. Grant, Nick Frost, Lenny Henry and Nigel Havers have much to do.
The oddest thing about Penelope is not that Ricci has a pig's face. No, it's the strange world that director Mark Palansky halfheartedly creates around her. You don't need to be an Anglophile to spot that Penelope was filmed in London. So why is the city overrun with Americans? Worse, everyone uses retro-futuristic contraptions--from phones to spy cams--that look like they were pilfered from wherever Terry Gilliam keeps his props from Brazil. But they clash with the contemporary sensibility that Penelope projects. If you're going to place the heroine in a world unlike our own, one in which magic exists, be committed to doing so. Otherwise, it's just confusing and off-putting, as proves to be the case with Penelope. That said, Palans
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