Atonement 'fore Penelope at the Cinema

Ali and I headed to The Cinema TheatreMySpace link (957 South Clinton Ave.) to see the double-feature: Atonement, and Penelope. This time, we didn't get a chance to hang out with the cat — I guess it's done with us.

So Atonement took me a while to get into. I had thoughts of the day swimming around and couldn't get into it fully. I noticed that the foleying was performed louder and more stylistically than in other movies — obviously for artistic effect but, to my ear, deliberate to the point of distraction.

The story is not particularly unusual: Briony — a young girl — misinterprets the passionate love between her sister, Cecilia, and her beau Robbie as some bad thing in her sexually-budding mind. Through a lie of serendipitously important placement, she gets them separated. The World War II intensifies, and Robbie leaves to fight, able to see Cecilia only briefly.

As the emotions intensified — from the sterile complacency of the aristocratic life to the ragged edges of human existence — I became much more engaged in the film. And then was absolutely surprised to find it has a bit of a twist ending — one that looks squarely at what is real and what is not, unraveling the tapestry laid before me.

Penelope, on the other hand, was brutally terrible.

The story is that Penelope was affected by a curse of her father's lineage such that she was born with the appearance of a pig. To break the curse, she must wed one of her own — another "blue-blood" aristocrat. Unfortunately, her appearance is so hideous that all suitors literally run away from her at first sight, never getting to know the kind person she is inside. So does she finally find her prince? Will the curse actually be broken?

Let me save you 102 minutes of your life: yes, but it's the down-to-earth guy who actually likes her and he's not really a blue-blood, and yes, but the curse is edited partway into the film so that it's when she finds the one who loves her truly — and it is she that finally loves herself that breaks the curse, turning her back into regular-old Christina Ricci.

The fundamental flaw of the film is that it attempts to hit the exact middle-ground of all aspects. It's a cartoonish fairy-tale set in realistic modern-day England. Penelope is so hideous that she drives suitors away, but she's not bad looking at all. The chemistry between the designated couple is vaguely lukewarm — more like cooked pasta than a roaring fire. The resolution is absolutely insipid — that the curse forged in vengeance against a whole bloodline is really just a way for a girl to get through her issues and the evil witch was a big-hearted softie after all.

And then there's the script — oy. The fundamental message is that superficially loving mothers end up smothering their children's sense of self and must be shut the hell up. Or at least that may be on the mind of the scriptwriter. Then again, I guess if you love Everybody Loves Raymond, then — as this is the same writer — you'll probably love this script too. And apparently so do hundreds of commentators on Internet Movie Database.  And I find that to be more disturbing than the fact that this movie got made at all.

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