out of Five
Running time: 102
Watchable but patchy fantasy romance that doesn't quite work, despite strong performances from Ricci and McAvoy.
What's it all about?
Christina Ricci plays Penelope, a young heiress afflicted by a secret family curse that has turned her face into that of a pig. The curse can only be lifted when she is truly loved "by one of her own", so her parents (Catherine O'Hara and Richard E. Grant) provide her with a string of blue-blooded suitors, only for them all to run away screaming when her face is revealed.
However, when a tabloid journalist (Peter Dinklage) mistakes gambler Max (James McAvoy) for a prospective suitor and hires him to take Penelope's picture, Max ends up falling for her. And when Max disappears rather than expose Penelope, she leaves her house for the first time and begins to experience life in the big city.
Christina Ricci gives a sweet, likeable performance and is well cast as Penelope, whilst the pig face make-up is extremely well done, if not exactly hideous enough to provoke the reactions we see on screen. McAvoy is equally good and there's strong support from both Peter Dinklage (fast becoming one of Hollywood's best character actors) and Simon Wood as a reluctant suitor.
The main problem is that the script is patchy and fails to make the most of its emotional scenes – for example, the finale is badly rushed, leaving the audience unsatisfied. Similarly, it suffers from bizarre casting (Russell Brand, Lenny Henry) that continually takes you out of the film.
It also doesn't help that the setting is unclear – the press notes say that it's meant to be a fairytale-type city, but it is quite clearly London, despite having a New York-style skyline and containing a confusing mish-mash of accents. Also, Reese Witherspoon is completely wasted in a tiny role as a girl who befriends Penelope, though she presumably only cast herself as she was exec producer.
In short, Ricci and McAvoy ensure that Penelope is never less than watchable but it's let down by a patchy script and poor direction.