If nothing about a girl born with a pig nose because of an ancient family curse sounds appealing to you, Penelope may not be your kind of movie. However, if you enjoy a creative fantasy, a film with a hint of morals for young girls and some amusing moments plus several good performances, then have no qualms about buying your ticket.
Centuries ago a witch put a curse on the Wilhern family: their first-born female would look like a pig. It took several centuries before Franklin (Richard E. Grant) and Jessica (Catherine O’Hara) Wilhern have that cursed child. Jessica is so ashamed of her daughter, who has a pig snout and floppy pig ears, that she refuses to take Penelope (Christina Ricci) out in public. In fact, when people yearn to see the baby, Lemon (Peter Dinklage) a midget newsman, sneaks into their house. He gets Jessica's foot in his eye for his efforts.
Years later, when folks are still curious to see Penelope, she's had it with being caged in. Her mother has decided it's time to break the curse the only way she knows how. According to the legend, if Penelope marries a man of her own aristocratic class, she'll lose the snout.
Against her will Penelope endures a long line of eligible suitors who desire her dowry, but run screaming from the room when they see her face. They apparently don't believe a marriage will break the curse. Just as Penelope demands her heartless mother to end the humiliation, a man of interest enters the fray.
Actually, Max (James McAvoy) has been hired by Lemon and Edward Vanderman (Simon Woods) to pretend interest in Penelope in order to snap a picture of her. Why would Max do this? Because he's an aristocratic, penniless gambler who needs money. Edward is a man who thought about marrying Penelope, then announced to the world how hideous she looked, adding a few more details from his own imagination to his description.
Penelope senses there’s something different about Max when he doesn't flee the room with the others. Talking to him through a two-way mirror, Max finds her appealing beyond looks, but he's stuck. He has his reasons why he won't try the photo and can't pursue Penelope in marriage.
All its silliness aside, Penelope finally settles into a modern day romance. While Max tries to get his life together, and Edward is forced by his father to go through with the marriage to Penelope, she runs away to experience life in the big city on her on. Meeting her first real friend, the Vespa-riding, free-wheeling Annie (Reese Witherspoon), life doesn't seem so bad for Penelope -- as long as she keeps her scarf over her nose.
The transition from fairly tale to modern day isn't quite so smooth, but by that time you're wrapped up in these characters. Anyone who saw Christina Ricci in Black Snake Moan will be amazed at her transformation from a wild young woman and victim of childhood sexual abuse to a sweet snout-nosed charmer.
"Christina did such a phenomenal job with the character that I never could see it the role with anyone else," said the film's director Mark Palansky. "She’s so expressive and so bold and her eyes are so powerful."
Max is a great romantic match for Penelope, and McAvoy is becoming quite the romantic lead. He recently starred in the Oscar-nominated Atonement and before that the classic love story, Becoming Jane. In Penelope, McAvoy steps up to the plate again as the sexy, mysterious, and wise young man who can see beyond what's in front of him.
The magic of this story involves Penelope learning to accept who she is -- and beauty is no part of that equation. Too bad her mother never got that clue! Young girls and women who like to dream are probably the target audience for Penelope.
(Released by Summit Entertainment and rated "PG" for thematic elements, some innuendo and language.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.