Beauty or Bucks? ‘Penelope’ Answers the Classic Question

Mariam Grigoryan

Finally a romantic fairy tale without any cheesy acting or corny lines. A true use of imagination.

Most viewers are familiar with the “Beauty and the Beast,” the toad who was actually a prince, and even Shrek. This particular fairy tale is somewhat more modern but the concept remains: to break a spell or curse one must find true love.

“Penelope”, directed by Mark Palansky, written by Leslie Caveny, is a story of a girl who is born with a snout due to a family curse which was bestowed on her by a witch. To break this curse and acquire her natural looks she must find “one of her own kind,” a blueblood such as herself, or so she assumed.

After a draining number of eligible bachelors, selected by her mother (Catherine O’Hara), who jumped out the window from the shock of her appearance, Penelope (Christiana Ricci) was on verge of giving up. Then came along Max (James McAvoy), who made quite an impression on all and surprisingly did not run away. However, when Penelope proposes to Max, he mysteriously refuses and disappears. Meanwhile Penelope, tired of the pressure from her mother and the rejection, flees to the big city where she finds the world not as cruel as her mother portrayed it,-but a colorful and adventurous place.

There Penelope meets her first friend Annie (Reese Witherspoon), an opinionated but kind-hearted girl who seems to know plenty about the city and life itself, and meets Max. Who after struggling with his gambling issues, finds a decent job and begins to pursue his old passion- the piano. After both Penelope and Max overcome their obstacles and several ordeals they reunite to find their love rekindled.

Even with a predictable ending, its contents, characters and soundtrack make up for it. O’Hara does a spectacular job of depicting the overbearing, overprotective mother. I could not think of a more suitable actress for the role.

McAvoy’s character is also very endearing and heartfelt. His nonchalant looks personify his character’s struggling protagonist. McAvoy, nominated Best Leading Actor for his recent film “Atonement” at the Academy Awards, won over the audience the second his character comes on screen.

Not to mention Christina Ricci, who’s heroine the audience cannot help but cheer on. The antagonist, Edward Vanderman Jr. (Simon Woods), plans to reveal Penelope’s secret and his plot to turn the public against her only backfires.

The only characters not fully developed were the father (Richard E. Grant) and Annie (Reese Witherspoon), although they were just as equally well played.

The soundtrack is melodic, with numbers such as “Waking life” by Schuyler Fisk and “Your Disguise” by James Greenspun.

Overall a great comedy, the cast from Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blond) to Ricci (Cursed) gave a wonderful performance. Although not an original story line, Palansky, an upcoming director, did an outstanding job with the cast, making it stand out with humor and sarcasm.

A Summit Entertainment film, running 1 hr. 42 min., “Penelope” is rated PG for Thematic elements and some innuendo and language. Opened in theaters 02/29/08.

3 stars (out of 4) ***