Movie (91 minutes, PG)
Starring Christina Ricci and James McAvoy
If Penelope had been released in theaters with all the proper promotion, it wouldn’t be a cult hit dependent on word-of-mouth–it would be a hit, period. Reese Witherspoon has produced (and cameoed in) a fairytale for the paranormal set, complete with disfigured ‘princess’ and diamond-in-the-rough ‘prince’. And before you go “Prince? Princess? What is this–Disney for grown-ups?” just hear me out. Penelope is a romance with style.
Due to a curse on her rich, blue-blood family, Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci) was born with a pig snout instead of a nose. In an effort to protect her from the scorn of the world, her parents constructed an entire wonderland for her inside their house, and never let her go outside. She’s learned about the world through books and music, and the only boys she meets are the ones who speak to her through a one-way mirror. Apparently, the curse will be broken if she falls in love with her own kind, so her parents parade only well-born boys through their house. Every time twentysomething Penelope shows them her face, they run away in terror…until blue-blood Max Campion (James McAvoy) arrives.
The fairytale genre leaves room for some convenient plot turns and over-simplification. Most of the actors chew the screen like silent film stars, but I didn’t really mind that. It fits this satirical fairytale. The romance seemed to sag at the halfway mark, but redeemed itself by the end.
Simple and innocent as this story is, it has more romance than traditional fairytales, and McAvoy brings a believable honesty to his role that elevates this above more traditional fairytale endings. I loved Enchanted (starring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey) but that was a fairytale comedy. Penelope is a romance.