It is a fairy tale, and I like fairy tales, fractured or otherwise. Even though I must admit that I think reading too many fairy tales as a child kind of messed me up (or at least messed up certain things for me), I still can't get enough of them. This is a fairy tale in the tradition of Shrek, in that it's sort of deconstructing the fairy-tale paradigm from within. So to be fair, I have to admit certain things about Penelope that could come across as negative to people who don't like fairy tales. First off, because it's a fairy tale, the set-up and the structure are somewhat formulaic. It also has familiar romantic-comedy plot elements, like seducer-with-ulterior-motives-falls-in-l
But apart from the fairy-tale thing, I'm having difficulty categorizing or describing it. It reminds me of Juno in that it's light without being fluffy; there is actual substance to it but (with the slight exception mentioned above) it's not heavy-handed. Perhaps it has slightly more of an agenda than Juno, but I feel that it mainly exists just to tell a good story. Another similarity with Juno is the presence of a strong young female protagonist, although I hate to put it like that because those are sort of feminist-coded words, and I make a point of not self-identifying as feminist.
Recently I discovered the Siskel & Ebert/Ebert & Roeper website, (which is amazing, because they've archived all their TV film reviews for 20 some years), so out of curiosity I went to see what they thought of Penelope. Unfortunately Roger Ebert is still absent from the show while battling cancer, but the guy who was filling in for him, I believe his name is Michael Phillips, said that since Penelope seemed so well-adjusted and down-to-earth in the first place, he felt that watching her voyage of self-discovery was not very satisfying. Personally, I disagree entirely; I think the very fact that she seems so well-adjusted in spite of everything (particularly in spite of her ding-bat mother) is part of what gives power to the story. Because you'd think that such a person could get beyond all those hang-ups (hangs up?) and insecurities and see what we, the audience, see, which is that she really doesn't look that bad, and even her pig nose is kind of cute. Which ultimately she does, of course, but it makes for a compelling contrast, and it goes to show the power that our parents' prejudices can have, and the strength and tenacity of a negative self-perception, and the toll that such a perception can take even on someone who's otherwise very smart and sensible.
One of the things that struck me about this movie is that, while it definitely takes place in modern times, the actual setting is sort of vague; it seems to take place in the magical land of Engla-meric-land. The reason I bring this up is that there are plenty of English actors speaking with English dialects, and plenty of American actors speaking with American dialects, and in the middle of them all is poor, dear James McAvoy, who is Scottish but seems to be trying to sound American. And doing so fairly successfully, to his credit, but I do wonder what exactly was the reasoning behind that, because on the one hand, since there isn't any dialectal consistency to the film it seems that his Scottish accent would fit in perfectly well, but on the other hand, (and I'm ashamed and embarrassed to admit it), sometimes I find it rather unintelligible. So I don't know how I feel about it, but since they chose to have him do the dialect work I felt he did it quite well, and he's otherwise entirely brilliant (it made me want to see Atonement all the more). I think it would have been kind of cool if he had turned into a faun at the end, though. Not that that would have anything to do with the story; he was just so cute as a faun in the first Narnia installment.
To sum it all up (which, as you've probably noticed, I'm very bad at) this was a film that I was genuinely sorry to see end. I really wish I could live in the world of Penelope; I want Penelope to be my friend.