critical disconnect

10 November 2010 at 08:06 Leave a comment

I had noticed, at some point, that movie reviews never really spoke to me.  I frequently agreed with parts but I never experienced a review that I thought really reflected my own thoughts and feelings about it.  I’d watch Siskel and Ebert with interest but little resonance.  I eventually quit reading/listening to reviews once I could use the synopses available at IMDB to decide whether I wanted to see a movie or not and didn’t give it much more thought.

But recently I saw the movie Penelope.  Just.  Wow.  I had a reaction like I haven’t had since first seeing My Dinner with Andre.  And so I became curious about other peoples reactions to it.

Again with the ‘wow’, only this time not the good kind:

The movie’s fundamental flaws begin with Penelope’s appearance. She is supposed to be so hideous that potential suitors dive out of the windows of her family’s London mansion at the first sight of her. After an encounter one greedy twit, Edward Vanderman (Simon Woods), goes to the newspapers with a tale of being attacked by a fanged monster, but nobody believes him.

In actuality Penelope Wilhern, who is hidden away in the house by her snobbish parents, Jessica (Catherine O’Hara) and Franklin (Richard E. Grant), is more adorable than Miss Piggy. Her nose, through which runs a carotid artery (thus precluding cosmetic surgery), is well-shaped, symmetrical and cutely turned up.

-Stephen Holden

Penelope is regarded as so hideous that men literally throw themselves through second story windows to escape her presence yet, even with the prosthetic snout, Christina Ricci retains her inherent if unconventional attractiveness.

Catherine O’Hara, who is more at home in broad comedies, has a tendency to go too far over the top.

-James Berardinelli

There’s a definite fairy tale vibe to the entire production, from the set decoration, to costumes, to the way the story unspools. Even the color palette feels lifted off the pages of a children’s fairy tale book. By existing in this alternate sort of universe, Penelope gets away with a lot of storytelling liberties more conventional films would never be able to pull off. This world of curses and pig snouts seems like an interesting place to visit, and director Mark Palansky steers us through it at a brisk pace and without any unnecessary detours. Screenwriter Caveny’s tight script moves things forward quickly, although time is taken at the beginning to lay out enough of a backstory so that we’re never at a loss as to any character’s motivation.

-Rebecca Murray

Then I noticed a pattern…the reviewers who really didn’t get it were all male.  And what they essentially objected to was that the men were betrayed as outrageously overreacting to the not-ugly-enough Ricci.

But for me that was part of what worked – what made the story meaningful.  Many girls and women have been on the receiving end of unreasonable male standards for looks/personality/behavior.

Not surprising that this part of the story would not resonate for men, but what is so awkward about these reviews is that they will not admit of another perspective: Holden even suggests the movie should have been animated so they could have made Penelope ugly enough he wouldn’t have to be offended for his fellow men.


Entry filed under: of interest.

Memory and anger writers on motherhood

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What I’ve been reading:

  • James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, L.L.D. (London, 14 King William Street, Strand: William P. Nimmo, 1876). 5 years ago
  • Marsilio Ficino, Letters of Marsilio Ficino, v. 3, trans. Language Dept. School of Economic Science, London (New York: Gingko Press, 1985). 5 years ago
  • Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988). 6 years ago
  • Stephanie Kallos, Broken for You (New York: Grove Press, 2004). 6 years ago
  • Marsilio Ficino, Letters of Marsilio Ficino, v. 2, trans. Language Dept. School of Economic Science, London (New York: Gingko Press, 1985) 6 years ago

T. Anderson Painter

I am a misanthrope. No one ever believes me, but this seems to prove my point.



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