A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this fairy-tale-like film has a lot of heart. There's not much iffy content (a bit of drinking and innuendo is the bulk of it), and the main character is devoted to discovering her own identity and making peace with her circumstances, though it's sometimes hard for her to overcome her shame. Her parents -- especially her mother -- can't seem to accept her as she is, which could be upsetting for some younger viewers. But in the end (naturally), everything wraps up nicely.
What's the story?
Born to a privileged family burdened by a curse, pig-nosed Penelope (Christina Ricci) will only get a human snout when she finds true love with one of her "own kind." Mindful of a scandal, her parents (Richard E. Grant and Catherine O'Hara) fake her death and lock her away until she's grown up, at which point they begin hunting for a suitable -- and, more important, willing -- mate. The "auditions" for a hex-breaking aristocrat begin straight away, but every time Penelope reveals herself, the men run off. One, disgraced after no one believes his tales of a monster on the loose, hires a muckraker named Lemon (Peter Dinklage), who hatches a plan to hire Max Campion (James McAvoy) -- a down-on-his-luck blueblood with a gambling problem -- to snag a picture that will sell lots of tabloids. But Lemon didn't bet on Max having a heart (not to mention a soul); soon, Penelope is unmasked, Max rejects her, and she's left to figure out what how to live happily ever after -- with and without the boy.
Is it any good?
Brimming with style and whimsy, PENELOPE is a traditional fable set in a too-exquisite, retro metropolis. It's genuinely lovely to look at -- even that nose, which doesn't actually seem so bad. But although it's amiable -- aided in part by an appealingly rakish McAvoy and a game, though disconcertingly tame, Ricci -- it's a half-baked soufflé that collapses midway. Despite all of its fairy-tale trappings, it's not really any less predictable than any other mainstream romantic comedy.
The supporting cast is generally strong -- O'Hara is delightfully caustic -- though Reese Witherspoon's cameo turn as an "edgy" messenger Penelope befriends doesn't work because, well, she doesn't believably have an edge. As for the film's central question -- can a sweet girl with a pig's snout find true love with one of "her own"? -- the answer is this: What exactly does "one of her own" really mean?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this movie is like a fairy tale. What does it have in common with more traditional "once upon a time" stories? How is it different? What lesson do Penelope and her family learn from their curse? Are the men's reactions to Penelope understandable or reprehensible? What shapes their expectations of how a woman ought to look?
- In theaters: February 28, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: July 14, 2008
- Cast: Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Reese Witherspoon
- Director: Mark Padansky
- Studio: Type A Films
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Magic and fantasy
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, some innuendo and language.
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