Penelope is a fun and well-made modern fairy tale.
The wealthy Wilhern family has a curse on it. Generations ago, a Wilhern son fell in love with a servant girl and wanted to marry her, but when the family found out, the engagement was broken. The poor girl then killed herself, but her mother, a witch created a spell so that the next Wilhern daughter would be born with the face of a pig. The only way to break the spell would be for her to marry “one of her own,” that is a man from a wealthy family with long bloodlines.
For generations, the family only had boys, but finally, poor Penelope (Christina Ricci) was born and there was the snout, right where her nose should have been. Her parents (Catherine O’Hara and Richard E. Grant) seek the advice of a plastic surgeon, who informs them that–amazingly–the girl’s carotid artery runs through the nose, making a fix impossible. In an attempt to hide her from the world, they fake her death and Penelope grows up living in her luxurious room reading, studying, and entertaining herself with plants and animals, with virtually no contact with the world outside. Indeed, she becomes a fascinating and charming young woman, quite beautiful… except for her nose, that is.
When Penelope becomes a young woman, her parents hire a “matchmaker to the rich and famous” to try to find someone to marry her, but alas, she always insists on showing herself to the prospective mate and they always run away. The latest in this line is Edward Humphrey Vanderman III (Simon Woods), a spoiled idiot of a man, who runs away screaming, claiming that Penelope has vicious fangs and is horrible looking, which is simply not true. He hooks up with Lemon (Peter Dinklage), a reporter who lost an eye to Mrs. Wilhern when he tried to get a picture of baby Penelope years ago. He is determined to get a picture of grown up Penelope and gets Vanderman to help him. What they need is some blueblood down on his luck that they can bribe to be a prospective husband who can surreptitiously take photos of her.
They find a man that they believe to be Max Campion (James McAvoy), a rich, handsome young man with a severe gambling problem and they hire him to join the list of prospective suitors. Penelope watches him behind a one-way mirror and as they talk, they begin to like each other. She decides not to show herself to him, but asks him to come back the next day. She sees him trying to steal one of their rare books and it piques her interest further.
Of course, they’re going to fall in love, but there is a reason he can’t marry her and break the curse and there are a great deal of hijinks between this circus of characters, especially when Penelope decides to run away from home, hiding her snout with a scarf. She makes friends with a bike messenger, Annie (Reese Witherspoon), who becomes her first real friend. Witherspoon also produced the movie!
The movie is great fun. Ricci is fantastic as Penelope, bringing just the right amount of wistfulness, charm, and intelligence to the role. O’Hara and Dinklage are always funny, McAvoy is very engaging as the love interest.
The make-up for the pig’s nose is really amazing, but it caused a problem for me, too. It really doesn’t make Ricci look ugly. Even with the pig nose, her own beauty shines through. I thought that was a good thing, but it didn’t make sense that all the suitors run away when she really didn’t look that bad. It’s a dilemma. I can understand why director Mark Palansky made the decision, but it does detract from an otherwise charming film.
The movie isn’t overly long and is truly entertaining. A fun evening!