Once upon a time . in a not so far away land, there lived a young girl who was not very beautiful at all. Her name was Penelope. Born with the face of a pig, Penelope (Christina Ricci) must find a wealthy blue-blood to agree to marry her in order to break a centuries-old family curse.
“This is a film about genuinely liking yourself,” Ricci said in a recent phone interview with The Hatchet. “We are in this weird culture which attempts to homogenize everyone, but this movie has a great message about the value of individuality. We all have our own insecurities, but ‘Penelope’ celebrates how different we are.”
“Penelope” (Summit Entertainment) is whimsical and fun. It manages originality, despite working within a genre that is normally steeped in clichés.
“The writer was really smart about using a format that has been done before, so we think we know the next thing that’s coming,” Ricci said. “She uses the fairy tale structure to set up a powerful surprise that isn’t patronizing or preachy.”
“Penelope” boasts an impressive cast, which further helps to complicate and enrich the narrative.
Ricci, in the title role, gives a performance that at times seems a little contrived, but is otherwise sweet and self-assured.
James McAvoy (“Atonement,” “The Last King of Scotland”), sporting an impressive American accent, plays Penelope’s down-and-out love interest.
“James was lovely,” Ricci said. “A gentle soul and a lot of fun to work with.”
Penelope’s neurotic, albeit well-meaning mother is played by Catherine O’Hara (“A Mighty Wind,” “Over the Hedge”).
“I can’t say enough about how hysterical she is and how much fun she is to be around,” Ricci said. “She is such a generous actress too, which is rare.”
Reese Witherspoon, also a producer of the film, has a small part as a tough biker chick who befriends the heroine. Peter Dinklage (“The Station Agent,” “Underdog”) is entertaining as a one-eyed reporter hell-bent on snapping a photo of the pig-faced girl.
“Penelope” is also strengthened by how multi-dimensional the characters are. There is no clear villain, so there is something redeemable about all. This saves the fable from ridiculous caricatures that often plague other attempts to modernize the fairy tale.
Perhaps the most modern thing about “Penelope,” is that it is a love story not only in the romantic sense. Finding your prince charming might be nice, but loving yourself is far more important. “Penelope” conveys this message gently, without being trite or didactic.
“I hope that young people really like the movie,” Ricci said. “It’s entertaining and it has a positive message. Vanity is a silly thing. It’s more important to have a strong internal life. Then you have the chance to be your own best friend.”
Ultimately, “Penelope” is a film about individuality, and one that implies that happily ever after is a choice we have the power to make for ourselves.
“Penelope” opens in theaters nationwide Feb. 29.
This article appeared in the February 21, 2008 issue of the Hatchet.