Knight at the Movies - Archives
Two new chick flicks: A sweet fairy tale gets released from the vaults (at last!) and an enjoyable cat fight, Renaissance style
After floundering in distribution hell since its debut at the Toronto film fest in 2006, Penelope, an offbeat romantic fairytale is
finally coming to theatres. I’m delighted for director Mark Polansky, the film’s director, who is finally seeing his charming debut
feature come to light. This must also be a relief for Reese Witherspoon, who makes her executive producing debut with the film
(and also has a very funny cameo) and the movie’s star, Christina Ricci, who gives a charming performance in the title role.
Together, this trio, along with a cute script by Leslie Caveny (also making her feature debut), sumptuous production design (on an
indie budget), and a topflight cast (Ricci’s co-star is James McAvoy and she’s supported by a crack group of comedic supporting
actors including Catherine O’Hara, Peter Dinklage, Richard E. Grant, etc.) deliver a Tim Burton-esque comedy that offers audiences a
modern day update of the classic Ugly Duckling story.
The movie, which literally begins with a “Once upon a time…” screen crawl focuses on little Penelope who is under a curse placed on a
male ancestor who angered a witch. Unlike all the male heirs in the old money Wilhern family line, Penelope as the first female, is
born with a pig snout. Removing the snout will kill her so her mother Jessica (O’Hara) and father Franklin (Grant) reluctantly fake
her death and raise her within the walls of their mansion. Only a suitor with blue blood who loves Penelope, nose and all, can end
the curse. But when a tenacious reporter (Dinklage) learns from one such prospect that Penelope is still alive he hatches a plan to
get a photo of the pig girl. The reporter finds McAvoy, a blue blood with a gambling problem in need of cash, to become her
reluctant suitor. But soon Penelope, stifled by her mother’s overbearing love and protective instincts and other emotional setbacks,
determines to get out into the Big Bad World and sniff things out for herself.
Once Penelope ventures beyond the walls of home into the Big Bad World the story kicks into high gear and after finding herself a
tabloid princess and a new best friend, the tough, no-nonsense, Vespa riding Annie (Witherspoon), Penelope’s story becomes as
much a tale of Girl Empowerment (fans of “Wicked” will recognize Penelope as one of their own) as a quest for romance.
Ricci, who has played misfits stretching back to little Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family pictures has a sure feel for her poor
little rich girl role. O’Hara, who somehow manages to be shrill and funny at once, is bliss as always in a large part. McAvoy, who has
risen to become a heartthrob with the recent Atonement, brings the requisite leading man good looks and charm (especially in a
scene in which he tries to get Penelope to guess which musical instrument he plays)
Penelope is a sweet trifle, a great kid’s movie, and not surprising, given its subject matter a film gay audiences will find familiar and
comforting. That’s because, more than anything, Penelope is a story of acceptance of one’s true self – in other words, it’s a coming
When I saw that Peter Morgan, who penned the exquisite, densely layered scripts for The Queen and The Last King of Scotland, also
adapted The Other Boleyn Girl from the novel by Philippa Gregory I assumed that his work would have an equal measure of
historical fact and detail along with plenty of juicy trivia. Well, it’s juicy alright and has plenty of history but the end result is much
more like a Barbara Cartland romance novel down to the purple prose. But that’s not to say that The Other Boleyn Girl isn’t a ripping
good time – it is. It’s just very old fashioned, a true bodice ripper – a cat fight over a single tom dressed up in Renaissance faire
The luscious Boleyn sisters, Mary (Scarlett Johansseon) the open mouthed innocent with her blond tresses and the older, coquettish
Anne (Natalie Portman) with her brunette, are devoted to each other until a competition – in the name of furthering the family’s
fortunes – for the affections of the lusty King Henry VII (Eric Bana) takes center stage. The story really is a romance novel brought
to life – complete with hunky, shirtless Bana (many more shirtless scenes would have been appreciated) quickly bedding the
compliant Mary and just as quickly tossing her over after being hypnotized with lust by the unfulfilled promise that Anne, the more
experienced temptress, tantalizes him with. Bana, who does nothing in the movie but bed wenches nearly commands, “My loins cry
out for sweet release!”
A melodramatic sibling rivalry plays out between this pair of real life Banger Sisters over Bana and there’s lots of hambone dialogue
in the, “Sister, I shall see you taste bitter fruit for this act of gross betrayal!” vein as this pretentious, “literary,” and very old
fashioned movie moves towards its inevitable conclusion. In an earlier era this would have starred Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins
(they actually did two like it – The Old Maid and Old Acquaintance) and in its way, The Other Boleyn Girl is just as trashy and enjoyable.
Penelope-The Other Boleyn Girl
Expanded Edition of 2-27-08 Windy City Times Knight at the Movies Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.