Penelope (2008)

Rated: PG for thematic elements, some innuendo and language.
Length: 89 minutes
Grade: CBBB=B
Budget: $15 million
Box Office: $23 million ($10 US, $10.5 Intl, $2.5 DVD)

Written by: Leslie Caveny, who’s written only for TV shows before, Everybody Loves Raymond, Mad About You, and News Radio. She’s won one primetime Emmy and three nominations.
Directed by: Mark Palansky, in his first full length feature.
Starring: Christina Ricci, Reese Witherspoon, James McAvoy, Catherine O’oHara, and Peter Dinklage.

Because she was the first girl born after a witch put a curse on her aristocratic family, Penelope Wilhern was born with a pig snout for a nose and pig ears. To protect her from the media, she is sheltered in her home until her family employs a desperate search for another blueblood who will love her and break the spell.

Warning, I have to talk about the plot in order to evaluate this movie, which will involve spoilers.

Entertainment Value: C At first I was very excited, because this felt like a blend of Pushing Daisies, Mr. Magorium, and Big Fish, all of which I adore. But it just didn’t hold up over the long haul. The plot started to boor me. The behaviors of the characters stopped making sense. In short, I was disappointed in spite of high initial expectations.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol C+, Sexuality A-, Violence B, Language A-, Illegality B+
Originally, I couldn’t figure out why this movie was PG. But the more I thought of it, there are enough things here that this makes sense. There were a few scenes with beer, including Penelope being mildly drunk. The suitors become so frightened at her appearance that they dive out of second-story glass windows, a pregnant woman is said to have killed herself in grief at the beginning, and a midget loses his eye when he gets hit in the face with a spatula. There is a moment of alluded-to infidelity. Kids-in-mind claims there was an S-word in it, but I didn’t hear it. And gambling addiction is one of the key plot elements. Also, some of you will be concerned about witches and a curse as the premise. I would have rated this PG-7.

Significant Content: B
This is essentially a reverse Princess and the Frog story, so it’s going to primarily be about appearances versus reality and about true love. People will go to extremes to look good. Sometimes parents are too protective of their children. People will love you for who you really are if you’ll be straight with them.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
There are some really interesting questions that might be generated from this film. And for a fairy tale, it does a good job of not being either too realistic or being too ridiculous.

Discussion Questions:
~In what ways was Penelope’s nose a blessing to her? Have you ever thought it might be a blessing to be ugly so that you would know whether people love your for who you really are rather than for how you look? If so, how might this insight affect the way you go about dating?
~How important to you is your own physical beauty? How important is it in the person you marry? Is it lasting? What do you think about people having plastic surgery to become more beautiful?
~What do you think of the main message of the movie? Is the key to real beauty simply loving yourself? How much should we care what other people think of us?
~Because Penelope doesn’t have any friends, she reads a lot of books and loves books. What does this do to her development as a person? Would young people be better people if they read more? Is reading useful because it’s a way of hanging out with adults?
~Have you ever had something wrong with you get cured and then missed the problem? Do you think people ever become so attached to their problems that they’d rather keep them and the sympathy they generate rather than fix them?
~Can good looks, intelligence, and family power be a burden as well as being a blessing?
~What do you think of Penelope’s mom in this movie? Is her attitude toward her daughter’s handicap healthy? What could her parents have done better so as to prevent Penelope running away from home?
~What elements of this movie indicate it is a fairy tale? Does it have a moral?
~What is the public’s reaction to Penelope when they finally meet her? Does this surprise you or seem normal to you? What does this say about the value of being a decent person? Would they have loved her so much if she had been just an ordinary decent girl without such a defect?
~Penelope’s mom says at one point, “Those aren’t friends, dear, those are fans.” What is the difference? Do you have friends or fans in your life?

Overall Grade: B
It’s fine, it’s fairly fun, and it’s probably a really useful film to watch with boys and girls on the verge of dating.

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