Christina Ricci plays the title character. Centuries before, an ancestor of hers fell in love with a girl, and she with him. The man’s rich family convinced him the girl would not make a good match, though, and he married “one of his own”. In her despair, the girl killed herself. The girl’s mother was a witch and she cursed this man’s family. The next girl born to their family would have a pig’s face. The only way the curse could ever be broken was if this girl was accepted and loved “by one of her own”. Down through the generations the family had only sons, and the curse was mostly forgotten until Penelope was born. She had the nose of a pig. Even though her family was rich, they could not perform plastic surgery on Penelope because of an artery running through the nose.
Penelope’s parents Franklin (Richard E. Grant) and Jessica (Catherine O’Hara) kept Penelope at home because of the shame they felt she would bring to their aristocratic family. They even went so far as to fake her death when reporters tried to get pictures of the rumored “pig faced girl”. Penelope reaches the age of 18 and her parents go about trying to break the curse. They bring in a number of young men from aristocratic families to see if any will marry her. Penelope talks to them through a one-way mirror, but when she reveals herself to them, all the men run away in horror.
Edward (Simon Woods), one of the men who ran away, tries to take his story to the newspapers, but he is laughed off. A photographer named Lemon (Peter Dinklage), however, does believe him. Lemon had tried to get a picture of this girl many years ago and sees a chance to get one now. Lemon finds who he thinks is Max Campion, a down on his luck blue-blood. He offers to pay “Max” to attend one of these meetings and get a secret picture of Penelope. In reality this is a man named Johnny (James McAvoy) who pretends to be Max to get the money. When Johnny arrives for the meeting, though, he inadvertently messes up the camera and misses Penelope’s reveal. Noticing that this one man has stayed behind, Penelope talks to him via the mirror. A connection starts to form.
Johnny visits again and this time Penelope reveals herself to him. Although startled, he does not run. He does take a picture, but destroys the camera and picture instead of giving them to Lemon. Even though Penelope is distraught over this, she begs “Max” (Johnny) to marry her to break the curse, but her turns her down. (He has a good reason, which we learn later in the film.)
Penelope decides to run away from home. She wraps a scarf over the bottom of her face and takes her mother’s credit card. She meets a girl named Annie (Witherspoon) and Annie teaches her how to live life. Penelope decides to sell her own photo to get money so she doesn’t have to use her mother’s card. This creates a media circus, but to Penelope’s surprise, she is accepted by the public. She doesn’t have to hide anymore. Edward still thinks she is a monster, and says as much. To redeem his family’s pride he is forced to agree to marry Penelope so that she can break her curse. As you probably suspect, there is a great deal more than happens before this modern fairy tale is done.
The biggest negative I had with this film isn’t that big a deal. It’s that I didn’t find it believable that people considered Penelope to be horribly disfigured, especially enough to flee a house in fear or disgust. In fact, from certain angles Ricci looked a little cute with the prosthetic nose she was wearing. Other than that I’m sure some people didn’t like it because it had that icky romance and kissing and stuff in it.
If you want to see a different take on the beauty and the beast story, then give Penelope a try. You may find yourself liking it.
Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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