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"Penelope" (2008) - A modern-day fairy tale about a girl with a pig snout looking for love.

“Penelope” arrives on DVD Tuesday.

I’m a fan of magical realism, but I have a problem with the concept of a “modern-day fairy tale.” I believe the idea can be executed well, but the magical elements must be handled realistically. “Penelope,” the most recent example of the modern-day fairy tale, doesn’t work because the filmmakers don’t realize that even suspension of disbelief has its boundaries.

In the movie, Penelope (Christina Ricci) is the victim of a family curse that forces her to be born with a pig snout. Her family tries to find her a husband in order to break the curse, but they fail consistently. They seem to be in luck, one day, when one young man (James McAvoy) doesn’t run after seeing her face.

Teachers of fiction-writing and screenwriting usually suggest that the first few pages set the rules that the story will follow. However, I managed to lose faith in “Penelope” during the first five minutes. Instead of giving a look of suprise or asking a question about the peculiar nose, the suitors jump out the nearest window, falling from the second story of the home. Maybe these boys are particularly shallow, but really, is a funny nose all that disgusting? Who would take the chance of death in order to escape a girl with a pig snout?

And this isn’t an isolated incident: the film continues to show events that are just not believable, which has become a serious problem lately with this kind of movie. Last year’s “August Rush” played as a modern-day fairy tale, but the audience’s suspension of disbelief was supposed to apply not only to supernatural events but also to human nature. Maybe the characters in old-school fairy tales weren’t the most complex, but at least their motives and ideals were clear. By the end of the second act, we can’t figure out what Penelope really wants.

“Penelope,” however, descends to personal assault when it provides contrivances when necessary during the third act. I won’t spoil them, but anyone who decides to watch this movie will be jarred by at least two events near the end. I almost told the images on the TV screen, “Not fair!” as if the movie would take a different course of action and not be so insulting to my intelligence.

Well, sorry, but some of us still believe in fairy tales.

Some of you may remember my highly negative review of “August Rush” from last year, and I feel almost the same about “Penelope.” They may not be totally worthless movies–zero-star ratings are for the totally unwatchable–but they’re mighty close.

Rating: * out of ****



  1. What happened to the first born sister? They never showed her again after her birth.

  2. Hey Joey, it’s me! Just stopping by to take a look at things and recommend you to my new blog(yeah yeah, I’m following the crowd). But anyways, I never say “Penelope,” but I thought it would be exactly what you said. Oh, and I hope you’ve been keeping up with my movie reviews in the driftwood, I’m going to have one on “City of Ember” in the next issue.


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