True to fairytale form, this movie starts out with a curse. Perhaps what is not true to fairytale form is that this curse makes our heroine… less that desirable, aesthetically.
You see, when a hag’s daughter (she’s not really defined as a witch) is forsaken by her true love (or maybe not so true love after all), the mother seeks vengeance upon the aristocrat. She curses the first born daughter of the Wilhern line with the snout of a pig, a curse that can only be lifted when one of her “kind” love her for who she is on the inside. Not so sporting of her, is it? After all, what did the baby girl ever do to her?
Fortunately for many of the Wilhurn heirs, they are blessed with sons. Normal, healthy sons. But the curse can’t be avoided forever. Eventually a little girl is going to be born. That little girl… is Penelope.
For 18 years Penelope is locked away within her luxurious home- pampered, educated, entertained- but very much alone. Her mother faked her death when she was an infant and still has little to do with her even as a young adult. That is until it is matrimony time. Mother Wilhurn will not be strapped with this forever. She is going to have a normal, pretty daughter. No matter what! So every blueblood on record is invited to marry the pleasant Miss Wilhurn- and oh yes, we’ll throw a very sizeable dowry in for the inconvenience.
Of course, Penelope is very intriguing to the bachelors who flock to her doors, and the money isn’t bad either. What secret curse could this girl possibly have? All interest flies out the window though (quite literally in some cases), the moment her face is revealed.
By the time the movie is underway, Penelope is not going to sit around waiting for Prince Charming anymore. She’s done. The heartache is painful every time they flee. She has lost hope in humanity. Then Max shows up, and a friendship blooms. Hidden behind a mirror, Penelope gets to know the unusual young man, eventually trusting him enough to let him see her face. While Max is startled, he’s not repulsed. But when the proposition of marriage is thrown at him by Penelope’s mother, Max runs from the house; bitter and disappointed. Maybe Max is more than he seems at face value, too.
Things to Truly Love
This movie is all about loving who you are on the inside, but unlike popular portrayals of this, the story goes one step further. Accepting and embracing who you are on the outside, too.
Penelope struggles to find herself beneath the mask of her nose early on in the movie, but before we know it the pig snout no longer seems shocking. In fact, it begins to grow on us, just like it grows on Penelope and the world around her. We begin to love her, just as Max did, for all the beautiful and quaint things that define her as a person. Perhaps the defining moment of the movie is when Penelope shouts, in defiance of her mother and the rest of the world, that she likes herself the way she is.
Something else the movie shows, which I found particularly poignant, was how our attitudes and feelings affect those around us. Other people are more willing to accept you as you are, if you are willing to accept yourself. When Penelope learns to embrace herself, curse and all, the people around her do as well.
Max is certainly no Prince Charming, but perhaps that is why we love him. He’s a redemptive character who starts out on our bad side, seeking to exploit Penelope and sell her picture to a self-serving reporter (who also has a change of heart by the end). However, as he gets to know Penelope, he chooses to cut his losses and pursue the girl, not the money. By the end of the movie, Max has broken away from his gambling habits and trickery. He’s reforming himself one day at a time, taking back the reins, so to speak, and trying to make something of himself. But perhaps Max’s heart tells us the most about who the man is behind the down and out exterior. He sacrificially gives up the woman he cares about in order to give her what she seeks.
The parents in this movie are certainly disheartening. The father loves his daughter, but is spineless and kowtows to the wishes of his wife. The mother, on the other hand, constantly criticizes her daughter, masking the words beneath a masquerade of concern. The mother does have one redeeming moment when she admits that her obsession with her daughter’s looks made her a very poor parent. However, she goes right back to her old ways. It is good to note, though, that the mother’s vanity and actions are never played up as being something to emulate.
I was concerned about the magic in this story when I first started watching it, but after the first 5 minutes it takes a backseat to the story. What magic is portrayed is very fairytailish . A curse is placed on an innocent, unborn baby, and that is about it. In fact, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White have more than double the magic that this film has. The curse placed on Penelope really is portrayed as just that. A curse and not a spell. So the magic was very casual and tame.
Sexual content is pretty subtle in this film. The movie starts out with the story of an illegitimate child (the first “Wilhern” girl to be born, who actually wasn’t a Wilhern and thus did not receive the curse). There is also an enthusiastic kiss at the end between the heroine and “prince charming”. The only other references made in the movie are from Penelope’s intended. He remarks about how disgusted he is at the thought of kissing her on three different occasions (never to her face).
Some parents will be disturbed by the fact that Penelope does eventually run away from home, but this is one of those situations where your own views on this will play into what you think. The facts are that she is 25, her Mother wants to continue to put her through this unsavory situation in which she finds herself, and she does call home once she has left to let mummy and daddy know she is okay and loves them, she just needs to find herself. However, some audiences will still view this as an act of rebellion, so it is worth noting. I should also mention that she takes her mother’s credit card with her to finance the trip, until she is cut off and must find another means to produce income.
There is a wincing remark made by Penelope concerning committing suicide if her curse isn’t lifted. It is said to Max, who is visibly bothered by the fact that she would harm herself to keep him from having to deal with her curse. More than that I cannot say, as it would be a spoiler, but nothing comes of this remark and it is frowned upon.
Language is not nonexistent in this film, which was a downer. There are 2 uses of the D word and the H word, and a misuse of the Lord’s name.
Alcohol is also portrayed in the movie. As I said before, Max is a gambler, when the movie begins, and he is also a recreational drinker, not a drunk. Max invites Penelope to visit the local pub with him, which apparently has the best beer on tap, which she must try. Not surprisingly, this is one of the first things Penelope does when she leaves home. In fact, Penelope tries to drown her misery in a number of beers and becomes drunk. She pays for it with a headache.
This film is a beautiful piece of art. The sets and design is stunning and has a very old world theme. In fact, my mom can tell you how much I salivated over Penelope’s outfits throughout the movie. The movie is set in modern times, but is so fantastical that the use of modern conveniences and the appearance of Twinkies seem a bit out of place.
The movie’s crowning jewel is its heroine, who serves as a shining example to young women of what true beauty, and true worth, is. Unlike many films today, Penelope is a positive role model, someone who has character qualities worth emulating. That being said, winks at alcohol, sprinkles of language, and a tad bit of magic will prohibit some parents from letting their young ladies see this film.
As for me, this movie ranks as one of my favorite modern pieces, not only because it is captivating aesthetically, a fun ride, and has enjoyable characters, but because it has a powerful message. Our identity and worth is not found in what people think about us, and that is the idea this film challenges.