A curse, a girl with a pig face and a love story to lift the curse are just some of the tipping points to the film that is Penelope. Developed by Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Type A, Penelope stars Christina Ricci as the title character, who is cursed with the snout of a pig. Because of her appearance, her parents (Richard E. Grant and Emmy award winner Catherine O’Hara) lock her up in their mansion from the time she is a girl to when she becomes a woman. Like any beauty and the beast fairy tale, the only way to break the curse is for Penelope to find love—but unlike the typical fairy tale, Penelope instead discovers her own identity in the process.
“[Penelope is about] this girl who is essentially trapped in her house for 25 years….she’s trapped in her house so she has the ability to really sort of develop a strong sense of who she is and what talents she has, and [to do] the things that she does to keep herself entertained and inspired and alive, really,” Ricci said. “I wasn’t aware that it was going to be so sort of rewarding romantically at the end….We’ve been getting a really warm response to a movie that promotes the value of being an individual and definitely self-acceptance.”
In Penelope, the title character receives her porcine facial features after a curse was placed on the wealthy Wilhern family. While her parents find a string of failed suitors to break the curse, Penelope meets one who looks past her appearance, the dashing Max, played by James McAvoy, who really is working for the tabloid writer Lemon (Peter Dinklage). Falling in love with her but afraid to reveal his true intentions, Max runs away. Penelope follows to search for him in the outside world.
Although the movie may seem like the typical fairy tale with its curses and love story, Ricci is quick to dismiss that label. Rather, the fairy tale format is used as a tool to move the film’s message to another level.
Penelope’s journey exudes a feminist message for women and girls specifically. While Penelope itself seems to be a deviance to the body of work Ricci has done in the past (such as Black Snake Moan and Monster), it was this message that drew Ricci to the film.
Rather than merely being a fairy tale, the film is used to give a message to women and young girls to have confidence in themselves.
“What I found the most attractive about this was really the message that it had….I’m so sick of all the negative imagery and negative messages that are out there for women right now and little girls and, you know, some of the things that are aimed at children that are at the same time really kind of sexually exploitive….When I read the script and then I read this kind of twist in it and…realized that this was [a] very feminist film but [it] also…places a high value on the individual,” Ricci added.
“I think that one of the things that’s really great about this movie is that it is really universal….And I know that it’s not just women who experience these things and, you know, your insecurities can be about anything.…[The movie] promotes this idea [that] you should love yourself and that vanity is really a silly thing….[Maybe] people could actually walk away with something new to think about,” Ricci said.
The film is the third to come from Witherspoon’s Type A Films. The film also stars Witherspoon (Walk the Line) and Simon Woods (Pride & Prejudice). Penelope will be released by Summit Entertainment nationwide in theaters this Friday, Feb. 29.