This is a continuation of my mission to watch all of Catherine O'Hara's movie roles.
Reese-Witherspoon-produced "Penelope" is a cute film that tells the story of the titular Penelope (Christina Ricci) who, due to a curse from her father's side, was born with the nose of a pig. Her parents, especially her mother (Catherine! more on her shortly), want her to get married to a man of wealth, which would presumably break the curse. James McAvoy plays the only guy who even gets close to falling in love with Penelope, but needless to say things don't quite work out, and a fairy tale adventure ensues.
And while there are a lot of things wrong with "Penelope", that would be useless to get in to now, there are a lot of good things about it too. Besides O'Hara's great amount of screentime, the film is ridiculously cute, and Ricci and McAvoy give charismatic performances. Reese Witherspoon herself also has a small, but lovably scene-stealing role as a friend that Penelope makes after escaping her home.
O'Hara plays Jessica Wilhelm, Penelope's well meaning but severely misguided mother. Throughout the film, Jessica's sole mission is to get Penelope married so that she'll become a normal human - with the personal agenda that her own life will also be returned to normal. Jessica is conflicted because she loves her daughter but hates the curse that her husband's blood line has brought upon her. Even though she wants so much to help Penelope, her obsession with materialism and her manic desperation for nobody to know about the curse cause her to do more harm than good.
As aformentioned, Catherine has a great amount of screentime, which gives her a great opportunity to shine. She really has a hold on Jessica's conflict, and though the movie often villainizes her character, she is somehow able to keep you feeling a bit sorry for her all the same. O'Hara does such a good job of treating Jessica as human that she creates a three-dimensional portrait out of the caricature that was handed her, while still being able to do the over the top comedic things the script requires (like at the end when she uses her face to great comedic effect).
However, even though O'Hara is able to rise above the limitations of her character, the script really does continually work against her. For a perfect example, take her last scene with Penelope (sort of SPOILERY but not too much) in which she apologizes for her selfish actions. Her teary delivery of the lines is so sincere that we can really feel Jessica's remorse. However, then she goes on to comment on a possible plastic surgery job for Penelope, which totally undermines what could have been the most meaningful and heartfelt scene of the movie. O'Hara pulls it off, but it was a distasteful script decision that shows how the movie is bent on casting Jessica in an unfairly poor light.
All that being said, "Penelope" is still a very cute, if not forgettable movie that is perfectly enjoyable, despite its many flaws. O'Hara's perfectly non-judgmental, multi-layered and refreshingly substantial work as Jessica is definitely worth watching. Oh and did I mention that Reese Witherspoon steals the movie?
The Movie: 6/10
Best in Show: Disregarding Reese Witherspoon's cameo, I'll go with Catherine. But I must say, Ricci was absorbing and I loved watching James McAvoy be American.