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What I Watched Last Night: Pig-Faced Policeman Edition

July 26, 2010

Last night I had a hilarious double-feature of the 2006 whimsical fairytale romantic comedy Penelope and the classic 1985 Hong Kong cop movie Police Story. Imagine the dreams I had last night: horrifying and hilarious nightmares of Christina Ricci fighting pig-nosed Chinese businessmen, throwing briefcases and leaping off escalators, all the while being sexily pursued by James McAvoy and Burn Gorman.

Penelope tells the story of a girl who is the victim of her wealthy family’s curse: many generations back, some douchey grand knocked up a servant, whose subsequent suicide caused her witchy mother to hex the family: the next Wilhern girl would be born with the face of a pig. Six generations later Penelope is born to Richard E. Grant and Catherine O’Hara, both charming and underutilized in their roles as harried parents to a pig-faced daughter who they must hide from the world while simultaneously trying to find Penelope a fiance.

You see, the curse can only be broken when “one of [the family’s] own” accepts her for who she is, “till death do they part.” Her mother kicks the husband hunt into overdrive, searching for seven years for a man who will love Penelope enough to marry her (and her sizable dowry) without running for the hills. This would all be more convincing if Penelope were actually, you know, ugly, but at its worst the nose is just charmingly snubbed and not really all that monstrous:


OK, so maybe that is a little gross. Anyway, if you guessed that the plot of Penelope would involve a swindler trying to get a photo of Penelope for a tabloid, then falling in love with her, then leaving her for reasons that aren’t quite what you expect, causing Penelope to strike out on her own and make friends, then returning home to get married only to discover mid-vow that she loves herself the way she is, thus (spoiler) breaking the curse, then you’d be TOTALLY RIGHT. It turns out all she needed all along was to LOVE HERSELF. As Catherine O’Hara points out, the curse could have been broken ages ago if she had just accepted her daughter as who she was. Then they wouldn’t have had to go through all the agony of hunting down every eligible “blue-blood” in the land.

Penelope herself borders right on the edge of Manic Pixie Dream Girl-hood but is never really fleshed out enough, nor is James MacAvoy as brooding, be-emo banged, down-on-his-luck blue blooded gambler suitor Max:
Not visible: the Emo Bang of Intense Emotion. Visible: McAvoy’s champ-like brooding skills. Also invisible: the tree he is brooding in. Seriously. A tree.
BROODING. IN A TREE.

Anyway, I thought the touch at the end of having Max kiss Penelope while she had her mask on, thus signifying that he Loved Her Even Though Her Nose and Presumably Her Ears (And, Possibly, Hind-Parts) Resemble a Pig’s was very sweet. The message of “Accept Yourself and Dudes will Find That Sexy” is also kind of nice, although I’m not sure how losing the pig nose worked with that. And I wish that what looked like the beginnings of a romantic subplot between Reese Witherspoon’s spunky vespa deliveryperson and the bar owner had actually happened. They looked cute! He knew her usual! They made adorable and awkward wedding-related small-talk! Alas, twas not to be.

My roommate Raygan rented both Police Story and Police Story 2, which I haven’t seen yet. What I love about Police Story and about Chinese movies in general (Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland alike) is that they like to signify the mood change with really ridiculous music shifts: like, “THIS IS A COMEDY, LISTEN TO THE HAPPY CLARINET MUSIC.” Since there are lots of cute comedy moments in Police Story, including Jackie Chan’s character duping Selina with a fake intruder, only to get totally hosed by actual attackers later, this music change happens a lot. I can’t wait to see the sequel.
Jackie Chan’s friend learns the hard way that both home invasion and people getting injured are HILARIOUS.
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