Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Feb. 29. Rated PG. 90 minutes.
"A Fairy Tale Like No Other"? Penelope's influences are right up front—there's the Tim Burton production design (overstocking each frame with curios) and Amélie music-box wistfulness tinkling all about. The film's titular heroine (Christina Ricci) is born into money but, thanks to a hex brought on by a distant ancestor's snobbery, is accursed with a sow's snout (she's a prettier breed of The Twilight Zone's pig people). Director Mark Palansky starts Penelope by whisking us through a "The Story Until Now" sequence, and doesn't slacken much once the real tale starts in—released fully two years after shooting, the film's been trimmed to the quick. This little piggy ventures off her family estate for the first time into a hybrid London–New York–Belle Epoque beyond, to experience life and love (with the impeccably scruffy James McAvoy, ready to front some cruddy sparkle-and-fade NME-championed band). Ricci, though, is appealingly human, and some acknowledgement of the importance of female friendship, in addition to romance, is faintly touching. The social function of fables has long switched from cautionary chiding to coddling self-esteem. Hence the moral here: Self-acceptance brings inner beauty out. It's not quite that easy, but it's also not a bad lie to buy.