Directed by Mark Palansky
Written by Leslie Caveny
Release Date: February 29, 2008
Running Time: 1hr 44min
[This will be a review with spoilers. It came out in 2008, so I figure it’s justifiable.]
Centuries ago, the Wilhern family (blue bloods of old money) was cursed by a witch who’s pregnant daughter (a servant) had taken her own life when a son of the family (and the father of her baby) decided to marry someone more “of his station.” The witch stated that the next Wilhern daughter born would have the face of a pig, and the curse can only be broken if someone of her station (ie a fellow blue blood) accepts her as is. Generation pass and only sons are born, until finally a daughter is born. Penelope (Ricci) who is indeed born with the nose and ears of a pig.
As a result, her patents (O’Hara, Grant) keeps her hidden in the old family home, allowing few to see her. When she turns 18, her mother has suitors of old money attempt to court her, only for them to run away from the shock her appearance. One suitor, Edward Humphrey Vanderman III (Simon Woods) escapes before signing a nondisclosure, and seeks out tabloid reporter, Lemon (Dinklage) to get a photo a her. Lemon seeks out a young man named Max Campion (McAvoy) who’s squandered his family fortune in gambling and is desperate need of money.
The two bond, and he even sees her face and doesn’t run off scared. But they do discover that he was a spy for Lemon, and he says he’s unable to break the curse, which Penelope takes a rejection (he is in fact not who he says he is and not from old money). She finally decides to go out into the world on her own (albeit in disguise). With everyone wanting a pic (and needing some money), Penelope offers up photos of herself to Lemon for the $5000 reward. Naturally the newspapers have a field day with the story of a young woman with a pig snout.
Penelope continues exploring, even bonding with spunky delivery girl, Annie (Witherspoon, who was also a producer on the film), who teaches her the ways of the world. Meanwhile, Max has started to get his life back together, being inspired by Penelope’s courage to go out in public. Eventually, Penelope is revealed to the world, but to her and her parent’s surprise she becomes something of a celebrity and the public isn’t scared of her.
Ok, so this is a fairy tale, I’m sure you can guess how things turn out. Edward agrees to marry Penelope, claiming he’s learned to accept her as is (in fact he needs to make himself look good after claiming she was a monster). Lemon finds out that Max is in fact named Johnny Martin, and pretended to be Max (Nick Frost, his poker buddy) because he was still in fact in desperate need of money. Penelope calls off the wedding, accepts who she is and breaks the curse herself. With no more media attention, she becomes a school teacher, reunites with Max/Johnny (who’s turned his life around), and they live happily ever after!
At the time of release, the film was a minor success at the box office, earning $21.1 million against a $15 million budget. It received mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film 54% based on 127 reviews. The site’s consensus reads “Though Penelope has a charming cast and an appealing message, it ultimately suffers from faulty narrative and sloppy direction.” Metacritic gives the film a weighted average rating of 48%, based on 29 reviews — indicating mixed or average reviews.
I saw this movie back in theaters originally, being a fan of Christina Ricci and much of the supporting cast members. Plus I enjoy modern fairytale stories. I’m definitely glad I saw it and I revisit it any chance I get. I think this is a delightfully quirky film with a lot of heart and humor. Christina Ricci is her usual charming self as Penelope. Some may wonder why guys would run in fear over a pig nose when she still looks cute, but this is a fairy tale so you take these things with a grain of salt (plus it adds to the humor).
Catherine O’Hara has always been one one of my favorite comedic performers, and as usual she’s in top form as the overly protective mother. James McAvoy has a natural chemistry with Ricci, and gives off a nice shaggy dog charm. Peter Dinklage of course delivers a solid performance, and Reese Witherspoon is her typical charismatic self. The film also looks amazing! Great production design that gives a nice, timeless feel to the whole thing and very colorful cinematography.
Should you see it? I think so, yes.