Christina Ricci has never been a huge fan of the mainstream films, and she certainly didn't make an exception for "Penelope." Now two years after this was filmed, and a scant few showings at film festivals, this gem is making its way into theatres.
Daughter of wealthy parents, Penelope (Ricci) is born into a generations-old curse (caused by an affair a distant great, great, great grandfather had an affair with the maid who killed herself after he married a girl of more suitable status). The mother of the maid, a witch to be sure, put the curse on the first-born girl in the family. Fortunately for all but Penelope, the family had a very long line of male children, until her birth. And true to form, the curse came to light, and she was born with pig-like ears and nose.
Now at 25, Penelope's mom has been working with a matchmaker since Penelope turned 18, trying to marry her to another rich "blue blood" to break the curse. Suitor after suitor runs at the sight of her. Midget/tabloid newspaper man Lemon, blinded in one eye years earlier after sneaking into the family's home, gets Edward, the latest escaped suitor to help him expose Penelope as a freak. (Lemon's still angry about the eye being lost.)
Penelope just wants to be liked as she is, though she wouldn't mind getting rid of the nose bit, either. And maybe get a job as a horticulturist (a bit of an ironic twist, given Ricci has a phobia about plans and such).
It's quirky, it's fun, and it's an off-the-beaten path sort of flick with a bit of a romantic, Beauty and the Beast twang to it... except Penelope is probably more beast than the male suitor, though he ("Max," James McAvoy, a la "The Last King of Scotland," and "Atonement") could probably pass as a lurking sort of beauty beneath the uncombed hair and scruffy outward appearances.
As production leadership goes, the finished product isn't at all reflective of director Mark Palansky being a bit wet behind the ears; to the contrary, it's a wonderful piece of work. Writer Leslie Caveny has done some work with TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond," but otherwise is also a newer face to the big screen.
And sometimes the fresh perspective and talent are a breath of fresh air in the midst of the stale, tried-and-tired stories and plots we are barraged with every weekend.
The goofy little pangs of humor were fun, too; mom yelling at the butler as he plays with a baby Penelope for doing which little piggy went to market as he wiggles her toes -- but we mustn’t mention "piggy" around the baby.
Sure, I confess a bias toward Ricci and most every film she has appeared. But bias or not, the film was charming, nicely written and acted out, and my only regret is this had to wait as long as it did to get into theatre.
It's even PG, so it's kid-friendly, has an okay message about liking one's self just as they are. Leave the waiting aside and head to the theatres and pull up a chair. You'll be glad you did.