Released: 29 February 2008, Summit Entertainment, Stone Village Pictures
Starring: Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, Reese Witherspoon
Directed by: Mark Palansky
3.5 stars (out of 4)
Christina Ricci (Speed Racer) stars as Penelope, a lonely heiress who has spent her entire life trying to break a strange family curse that left her with the nose of a pig. When she meets a charming aristocrat, James McAvoy (Wanted, Atonement), who seems to see beyond her physical appearance, Penelope begins to learn that loving herself is more important than breaking the curse. (from the DVD)
This inspiring modern-day fairy tale is the story of one girl’s journey to find love with “one of her own kind” and break the family curse that has left her with the nose of a pig.
Lonely heiress Penelope (Ricci) has been locked away from society by her mother (Catherine O’Hara) and father (Richard E. Grant) in an attempt to protect her from society’s slights. After a string of blue-blooded suitors have failed to win her heart (and run from her in terror) Penelope meets Max (McAvoy), a down-on-his-luck aristocrat who has been hired by an eager reporter named Lemon (Peter Dinklage) to go undercover as a suitor for Penelope and to get a picture of her for his tabloid. Max ends up falling for Penelope, but when she begs him to marry her he refuses in an attempt to protect her from a secret of his own. Broken-hearted, Penelope runs away from the family estate and finds herself on her own for the first time in her sheltered life. Befriended by a delivery girl named Annie (Witherspoon), Penelope learns how to survive in the world. After her features are accidentally revealed to the world, Penelope is surprised to find herself welcomed by society with no need to hide her face ever again. But when a former suitor proposes to Penelope to please his family and redeem his image, she faces a difficult choice – break the curse, or remain pig-nosed forever.
Performances across the board are outstanding. Christina Ricci shines as Penelope, and James McAvoy displays a scruffy charm that makes him a very appealing romantic lead. Peter Dinklage is one of my favorite actors, and he brings an unexpected warmth to the part of Lemon. As Annie, Reese Witherspoon drops her girl-next-door persona and takes on the mantle of a free spirit, while Richard E. Grant portrays Penelope’s father, Franklin, as a man totally under the thumb of his slightly hysterical wife. Catherine O’Hara, however, almost steals the show with her frantic, bumbling attempts to break Penelope’s curse. She plays Jessica as an extremely shallow woman who never sees beyond her daughter’s nose – the type of mother who fakes her own daughter’s funeral (and cremation) to avoid the press.
The movie plays like a children’s book (ironically, the book was written AFTER the movie), with its bright colors and slightly odd characters. There is plenty of humor throughout, as well as a very sweet romance between Penelope and Max. While many fairy tales have an evil witch putting curses on people, writer Leslie Caveny takes the witch in her story and gives her a very human reason for casting the spell – she is seeking vengeance for a loved one. She has even added a cute little twist involving the witch at the end of the movie that I didn’t expect.
What I loved most about Penelope though is the way Lemon and Max changed after meeting her. Lemon is the rabid reporter who lost an eye chasing after the perfect photo of Penelope, but he soon discovers that getting what you wish for isn’t everything. When he stumbles across the reason why Max gave up Penelope, he does his best to get them back together – even going so far as to crash Penelope’s high-society wedding. Max, meanwhile, is a gambler who has lost his heart to the one girl he feels he truly can’t have. Even though they can’t be together, she inspires him to turn his life around and stop gambling it away.
With quirky characters, an original story, wonderful performances, and a positive message about accepting yourself that everyone can relate to, Penelope is an enchanting film that the whole family can enjoy.