This off-beat and uneven fairy tale has something in common with its heroine — an uncertain incongruity. That heroine is Penelope (Christina Ricci), an educated, wealthy young woman with a loving heart and the nose of a pig. More of a snout, actually. While it is actually kind of cute, Penelope’s prospective suitors are so horrified by it that one after the other they leap out of her mansion through the window, wanting to get away so fast they do not have time to take the stairs and leave by the door.
The pig nose is the result of a generation-spanning curse. Knowing that the curse can be broken if Penelope is loved and accepted by her equal, her parents (Richard E. Grant and Catherine O’Hara) keep her hidden away and parade dozens of suitable suitors in front of Penelope’s two-way mirror. If they can just keep her indoors until the curse is broken, they think she can have a normal life.
But being kept inside like a hothouse flower (the production design includes bell jars and a terrarium) is not normal. And so, as all captive princesses in fairy tales must, she runs away. And as all romantic comedy leading ladies must, she meets a prince with a secret (James McAvoy).
The tone is uneven, teetering between a self-aware, post-modern, “Shrek-“like irony and a more direct and genuine take on the story of the ugly duckling, and between fairy tale, gritty reality (a tabloid reporter who pays a suitor to get the goods on Penelope), and over-the-top satire. It seems ashamed of its own sweetness. While co-producer Reese Witherspoon clearly enjoys her brief appearance as a tough biker who meets Penelope in a bar, the character does not add much to the story. There are intriguing surreal touches, especially a Halloween costume that is “static cling.” And Amanda McArthur’s art direction is enchanting (raising our already high expectations for the new version of “St. Trinians”). And the ultimate resolution is satisfying. Like its hero and heroine, this movie is not for everyone, but it will be loved by those who know how to appreciate it.
Parents should know that this movie includes some mature material, including a brief reference to suicide, some violence (a character loses an eye), and some sexual references, including adultery.
Families who see this movie should talk about what Penelope’s parents should have done. Why did Penelope become so popular?
Families who enjoy this will also enjoy the classic Roman Holiday and Katherine Paterson’s book, The King’s Equal.