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Film / Penelope (2006)

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The movie was shipped to some theatres under the code-name Scarfy

Penelope is a 2006 Romantic Comedy film directed by Mark Palansky with a wide release in 2008. It stars Christina Ricci and James McAvoy as the romantic leads, as well as Peter Dinklage, Simon Woods, Catherine O'Hara, Richard E. Grant, Reese Witherspoon (who received primary billing, despite a relatively small supporting role), and Burn Gorman, Nick Frost and Russell Brand in minor roles.

Loosely based off the legend of the Pig-Faced Woman, the film is a reconstruction of the classic Fairy Tale. It follows the story of a child born to wealthy parents, but cursed with the face of a pig until she is accepted by "one of her own". Both she and her parents interpret the curse's words to mean a marriage to somebody of her own social class. She is kept in seclusion in her parent's house for her entire life, her very existence a secret. Her parents faked her death as an infant in order to avoid the paparazzi. Penelope is trained in the arts and sciences in an attempt to make her the perfect prospective bride. After seven years of fruitless searching for a blue-blood suitor who will remain in the same room for even a moment after seeing her pig face, Penelope (Christina Ricci) has resigned herself to being in this state forever. Both Penelope herself and her father believe that it is time for her to move on with her life and accept the fact that this curse might never be broken. When one final suitor (James McAvoy) seems to form a genuine emotional attachment to Penelope, but also refuses to marry her after seeing her face, Penelope flees her home and begins to live her life for the first time in the real world. She makes friends and enjoys the world which she had only ever seen through the windows of her room.

The film was completed in 2006 the film, but its creators were initially unable to find a distributor for it. It was stuck in The Shelf of Movie Languishment until 2008. Eventually, Summit Entertainment purchased the film's distribution rights in the United States for a 2008 release.

If you’re interested in reading the novelization by Marilyn Kaye, click here.

Not to be confused with the 1966 film Penelope with Natalie Wood.

Penelope contains examples of:

  • Ambiguous Time Period: Not only do cell/mobile phones and the internet apparently not exist, it's questionable whether answering machines even exist in this reality. Several characters are shown surrounded by tons of phones. Notably, said phones are all corded, and Penelope has no trouble finding payphones to use. Something of a plot point is made of Penelope's dowry, a practice no longer in play in modern day America (at least, officially, though, there might still be some cases of a form of Nobility Marries Money quietly happening). The clothing style, however, is distinctively that of The '90s and the early 2000s. Credit card usage is apparently common in the film's reality, and things such as shatterproof glass exist.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: The reason Penelope simply can't get plastic surgery is because one of her carotid arteries is running through her nose and operating on it would be lethal. Realistically, the presence of the artery would complicate the procedure but not make it impossible or fatal.
  • Bar Slide: When discussing just what she is missing out of life by remaining sheltered, Max says that Penelope has never really had a beer until she has had one on tap. One of the first things she does out in the world is ask for a beer on tap, which the barman gladly slides down the bar for her.....and which she watches go right off the end and shatter on the floor. Thankfully the barkeep is a friendly sort, so he passes her another after explaining that she is supposed to catch it.
  • Beast and Beauty: Deconstructed. While Penelope is the one with the disfigurement, Lemon specifically refers to the picture of her and Edward as "Penelope and the Beast" because, despite being physically attractive, he is so reprehensible.
  • Becoming the Mask: Max is hired to pose as a suitor in order to get a picture of Penelope for a tabloid, but gradually begins to fall for her.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Wanda is this to Jessica in her increasingly frantic attempts to find Penelope a husband.
  • Beta Couple: Annie and Jack the Bartender engage in some light flirting and banter when they are together without Penelope.
  • Big Fancy House: Penelope lives in a huge mansion, but she still feels trapped having spent her whole life there.
  • Butt-Monkey: Edward brings a lot of it on himself given his vendetta against Penelope, but he is lambasted by the police and the press for having a nervous breakdown when he tries to tell people about Penelope. Everything he does afterwards, either to prove that she exists or talking about her, makes him look worse and worse to everybody around him.
  • Character Narrator: The novelization is mostly told from Penelope’s perspective.
  • Clear My Name: Edward's arc in the movie is a villainous yet rather pathetic spin on this trope. His main motivation for working with Lemon is to prove that he isn't crazy, but he then has to "prove" that he isn't a jerk by deigning to marry Penelope.
  • Curse Cut Short: Upon seeing Edward's sketch of Penelope in the newspaper, Jessica exclaims, "HOLY MOTHER-!" and censors herself with a scream before she faints.
  • Curse Escape Clause: The curse will last until Penelope is accepted by "one of her own" until "death do they part". Since that specific phrase is part of a traditional wedding vow, and the situation all started because Ralph Wilhern refused to marry the witch's daughter, Penelope's parents believe that the curse will be broken the instant Penelope is married to a blue blood. It is ultimately broken by Penelope herself when she accepts herself, since she is certainly part of her own class and will not be parted from herself until death.
  • Cute Bookworm: Penelope. What with her sheltered existence, it's no wonder.
  • Cute Monster Girl: Penelope is absolutely adorable, even with the pig nose and ears. This is acknowledged even within the movie, when Lemon cannot reconcile the adorable pictures of Penelope with the monstrous description Edward had given him.
  • Deliberate Under-Performance: Much to Penelope's amusement, Max plays several instruments, including the piano, badly while she tries to guess which one he knows how to play; however,we later find out that he can play the piano well.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: Penelope's room looks like it came straight from an Anthropologie store, as do her clothes. The film as a whole, really.
  • Dreadful Musician: Max awfully plays several instruments when Penelope is trying to guess which one he plays, and sings awfully as well. Subverted, as we later learn that he's actually a gifted pianist.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Jack, the bartender, is credited as Jack the Bartender.
  • Everyone Can See It: Inverted. Everyone (minus Jessica) sees that neither Penelope nor Edward love each other when they are engaged. It's transparent that Edward doesn't want to marry a pig-faced girl, and Penelope is no more comfortable with his unpleasant personality. It only takes Penelope saying "no" at her wedding that breaks the tension that's been building.
  • Exact Words: The Curse Escape Clause provided by the witch who cast the original spell states that the victim's pig nose and ears will vanish when she earns the love of "one of her own kind." It turns out that doesn't mean another aristocrat—it means self love, which is about as close to "your own kind" as you can get.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Lemon wears an eyepatch over his right eye after Penelope's mother knocked it out when he tried to get a picture of her as a baby.
  • Eye Scream: Penelope's mother knocked out Lemon's right eye when he popped out of a cupboard to take a photo of the baby Penelope.
  • Fake Aristocrat: Lemon approaches Johnny Martin in a case of mistaken identity, believing him to be Impoverished Patrician Max Campion. Johnny goes along with it not for any perceived advantage of being a blue blood, but because he needs the money Lemon is offering.
  • Faking the Dead: When the paparazzi harassed the family after she was born, Penelope's mother, Jessica, faked her death (And had the 'remains' cremated) to keep her a secret.
  • Fictional Document: Penelope owns a first-edition copy of George Rockham's novel The Dreamer, which is her favorite book and which she re-reads during the film. This is neither a real book nor a real author.
  • Foreshadowing: When Lemon goes to recruit Max Campion into the scheme, the cashier points out the man at the poker table as Max walks towards them, while an unnamed character picks up his chips from the ground in the background. The character picking up his chips is actually Max Campion, hinted at by the camera lingering on him for a few seconds as the other Max walks towards the camera.
  • For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself: Penelope goes to visit "Max" on Halloween, wearing... a pig mask. While little girls go trick-or-treating in her old outfit no less.
  • Heel Realization: As the movie progresses, Lemon begins to question his pursuit of the pig girl and what he is trying to accomplish. After Penelope sells him her own pictures and he sees that she is just a vulnerable young woman he tries to talk Edward out of publicizing them and stops his own pursuit. He ultimately reveals to the Wilhern family all the details of what he and Edward had done, and even attempts to apologize to Jessica about the way he had stalked them years before (Although Jessica's abrasiveness makes it hard for him to get the apology out). The final scene of the movie has him again following Penelope for one last picture, but he instead puts the camera away and floats away.
  • Henpecked Husband: Franklin Wilhern is shown to have grown weary of his wife's dramatics over the years, and usually prefers to stay out of her matchmaking efforts. When Penelope runs away from home, Franklin tries to report her missing but Jessica refuses to get help from the police, for fear of Penelope's condition being exposed. She later relents, but even then will only give the inspector a very vague description, at which point Franklin finally puts his foot down.
    Franklin: Do you want to find her or not??
  • Hired to Hunt Yourself: Penelope takes pictures of herself and sells them to the tabloid in order to finance living on her own. Lemon is understandably perplexed, and her willingness to do so (And the vulnerable young woman her pictures reveal) are where he begins to question his lifelong hunt for the 'monster'.
  • Hope Spot: After the curse is lifted, Penelope and her parents reconcile themselves into a hug. And then Jessica suggests a bit of a change with Penelope’s new nose. This earns her a short “You’re crazy!” from Penelope and inspires her to move out of the house for good.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Jessica is so desperate to get the curse over with that she willfully looks over the fact that Edward slandered her daughter in the press, and is eager for Penelope to go through with an engagement even if it does not conform to the Curse Escape Clause given that Edward obviously does not accept Penelope the way she is.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Max Campion is known to have gambled away his family's vast fortune in only a few years. That is true for Max Campion, but James McAvoy is not playing Max Campion. Max is actually the other guy at the table sitting next to him.
  • Informed Flaw: The curse is described as giving Penelope the face of a pig, but all that she gets is the nose and ears. The ears themselves are often covered by her hairstyle, and are only visible on Christina Ricci in a single scene.
  • It's All About Me: Edward spends the whole movie convinced that he is still involved in Penelope's life and will be a target for her retribution. He even says "she'll be coming after me" when he hears of her escape. However, until he literally walks into her living room towards the end of the movie she had not given him a second thought after he ran out of her house at the start, and did not even recognize who he was when she spoke to him on the phone.
  • It Was with You All Along: After all of the angst about finding a proper suitor, it turns out Penelope could have broken the curse at any time, by simply accepting herself as she was (or presumably her parents could have broken it by doing the same).
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Max calls off the relationship with Penelope, despite having feelings for her; he thinks she won't be happy until her curse is broken, which he is unable to do as a Fake Aristocrat.
  • I Warned You: When Jessica tries to get as many blue bloods to see Penelope as possible, Wanda warns that you can't rush the selection process. Later, Lemon comes bearing news that "Max Campbell" is really a fraud named Johnny Martin. Upon reeling from the truth, Wanda tells Jessica "I told you not to rush the process".
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Jessica, Penelope's mother, is generally overbearing and annoying throughout the movie, and is clearly more focused on how Penelope's condition affects her rather than Penelope. However, when Lemon approaches her with information she bluntly points out that his actions, and the consequences (including the loss of his eye), were his own fault and responsibility. Lemon is clearly annoyed to the point of frustration at her attitude and rude dismissal, but he does not argue since he has already realized that he had acted improperly.
    • Jessica also gets another one earlier when she points out to Penelope that all the people that hang out with her aren't exactly her "friends" so much as they are fans who see her as a novelty.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Max generally keeps playing poker as long as he still has chips. His eventual decision to leave his poker game, even though he still has chips left, indicates that his character has changed.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: After spending most of the film pressuring Penelope to find a husband to break the curse, Jessica is still not satisfied with her beauty even after the curse is broken. This prompts Penelope to call her mother "crazy" and cut off all ties with her parents for good. The final denouement of this trope is that Jessica ends up becoming The Voiceless by Jake, who is revealed to be the witch.
  • Little "No": Penelope says it at her wedding to Edward when asked if she will take him for her husband.
  • Lost Voice Plot: Jessica didn't lose her voice in the normal way, but, through magic, she had it stolen by Jake the butler.
  • Magic Realism: The curse on Penelope is the only supernatural element to the movie, and even that is only explained by a family legend that is a century old. Lemon explicitly states that he does not even believe in the curse (Presumably attributing Penelope's appearance to a normal, if tragic, birth abnormality) and seems to regard the entire concept as farcical, even laughing when Max mentions lifting the curse.
  • Mama Bear: The town witch curses the Wilhern family after her daughter Clara commits suicide because Ralph had abandoned her to marry a woman of his social status.
  • Mock Millionaire: Max Campion has gambled away his family fortune, but Lemon hires him to pose as a suitor in order to get a picture of Penelope. It turns out that "Max" is double-Mock, as the guy Lemon hired is not even Max Campion at all, but is an average guy named Johnny who was sitting next to Max at the poker table.
  • Moving the Goalposts: Played for Laughs when Max and Penelope are discussing everything she is missing by remaining shut inside. He is shocked that she has never had a beer, but she protests that she has had a beer, and he explains that if it is not on tap then it is not a real beer.
  • My Greatest Failure: Jessica tearfully acknowledges that she could have broken the curse long ago had she simply accepted her daughter the way she was.
  • No Antagonist: There is no "villain" to the movie. Lemon and Edward are adversarial, but much of the plot would happen without them, and both are ultimately not "defeated" in any way.
  • Not Helping Your Case: Edward tracks down Larry Bunter, the journalist who wrote him as unhinged and delusional, and threatens to disembowel him if he does not take the piece down. Bunter is not at all impressed, and nonchalantly calls security.
  • Not Hyperbole: Several characters mistake the description of Penelope as a pig to be metaphorical, either as a general indication that she is ugly or that she is fat. This leads to a lot of shock and surprise when they discover that she looks like an actual pig.
  • Parents Suck at Matchmaking: Jessica presses Penelope on marrying Edward although her daughter clearly hates him because she thinks that the only way to break the spell is for Penelope to be accepted by someone of blue blood. After Penelope withdraws the marriage, Jessica bangs on her door and begs for her to reconsider, because she can't stand having a pig-faced daughter, never taking Penelope's feelings into account. Penelope finally snaps and tells her SHE likes herself the way she is, breaking the spell at last.
  • Pigman: Penelope's curse gives her the nose and ears of a pig.
  • Political Overcorrectness: Everybody tiptoes around Penelope's appearance, with her mother forbidding bacon or "this little piggy" and once Penelope becomes a celebrity, pig Latin is banned in schools.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Punished with Ugly: An interesting case, since Penelope isn't the one who caused the curse of ugliness, she inherited it. Her mother obviously thinks she is the one being cursed.
  • Purely Aesthetic Era / Retro Universe: The movie appears to be set in the same colorful non-indicative universe as Pushing Daisies and Babe.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Max gives one to Edward when the latter begins listing off how "loathsome" Penelope is. He gets right in Edward's face and says he knows what kind of person he is, "spoiled, rich Mama's boy".
  • Reconstruction: The film is a reconstruction of the Fairy Tale Princess genre as a whole, which in recent years has undergone a minor deconstruction with many films placing emphasis on the unstated problems in the Damsel in Distress genre of men rescuing women. Placed under a curse that everyone believes can only be broken by a marriage, the daughter of wealthy socialites looks for a man to rescue her. However, since they are only looking for blue-blood suitors all the prospective men are spoiled, self-indulged jerks who immediately judge her on her appearance and react out of fear and concern for how the situation will affect them. It is only when Penelope comes to terms with herself that her curse is lifted, and she unites with her love-interest after she essentially rescues herself.
  • The Reveal: "Max" is actually Johnny Martin, a son of a plumber whom Lemon had mistaken for Max Campion because they had been at the same poker table. The reason Johnny had declined Penelope's marriage proposal was because he knew that, as a non-blue blood, he did not have the power to break the curse.
  • Revenge by Proxy: On an unconscious level (at first), Lemon's goal isn't to out Penelope, or to make money off of a high society scandal, but to get back at Jessica for what she did to his eye.
  • Runaway Bride: Penelope, at the end, to her fiance's great relief.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: At one point, Edward tells Max how "ugly" Penelope is, describing her as "Nightmare ugly, Unkissable ugly". Max, who has fallen in love with her, angrily covers Edward's mouth, having had enough of his slander.
  • Single Sex Offspring: The curse was all but forgotten by the time of Penelope's birth since it only affected daughters of the family line, and for the many generations since getting cursed they had only given birth to sons.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Edward Vanderman tries to bond with Penelope over the concept, pointing out that his good looks, respected family name and hereditary fortune mean that people expect certain things of him and force him into their own preconceptions, just like her appearance gets people to react to her a certain way. You can tell by her voice that Penelope is taking what he says with a heavy dose of skepticism and doubt, but she does give him the chance to live down to her expectations. Once he sees that the term "pig" is not metaphorical (I.e. just being ugly) he, like all the suitors before, panics and runs screaming from the house.
  • Spanner in the Works: Had Lemon not told Jessica and Wanda Max Campbell was really Johnny Martin, Penelope would've gone through life not realizing Johnny only refused to marry Penelope for fear his inability to break the curse would've driven her to suicide.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Penelope was brought up by her mother to be a Proper Lady, and while she is kind, graceful and relatively naive, years of sending suitors screaming and dealing with her mother have made her a shrewd and headstrong, if a little jaded, young woman who knows her own mind and doesn't let others push her around.
  • Spinning Paper: One of the few modern works to use this trope.
  • Start My Own: In the end, after severing ties with her parents for good, Penelope goes on to make full use of her life, such as becoming a school teacher, hanging out with friends and settling down with Max.
  • Super Window Jump: Penelope's suitors are so shocked by her appearance that they normally jump out the closest window in a panic after she reveals herself. This happened so frequently that her mother had to install shatter-proof glass!
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: When Penelope finally accepts herself and her nose, the curse is lifted. Like make-over movies, the character may accept the "ugly" them but still get to keep the beautiful version. The movie ends with several kids guessing the moral, like "rich people stink", concluding that "it's not the power of the curse, it's the power you give the curse". A fair aesop, but the curse is still broken instead of lived with.
  • Tempting Fate: In the prologue, when Jessica is in labor, the reporters ask if she and her husband are expecting a boy or a girl. Jessica responds they'll be happy with whatever they have. At the end of the prologue, we have a Gilligan Cut of Jessica screaming in horror when she first looks upon her pig-faced baby girl, who just so happens to be the lucky recipient of the family curse.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Annie and Penelope, respectively.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Subverted with Edward. The movie practically starts with his reputation being ruined by his "ravings" of a pig-faced girl. Later, when Penelope has made herself known to the world, Edward tells the public that she "belongs in a cage". Everybody thinks he's a jerk after that.
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: All of Penelope's life, it's been Jessica's hope to find the one suitor to break Penelope's curse, granting them "a whole new life" and a "whole new [Penelope]". But after the curse is broken, even she admits she misses Penelope's previous face, the one she grew accustomed to for 25 years. And then she immediately starts critiquing Penelope's new nose, giving her a new thing to fixate on.
  • What You Are in the Dark: It's not easy for Lemon to tell Jessica the truth about Johnny Martin when she keeps spouting reminders that losing his eye was his own fault. He could've walked out of there, and nobody would've been the wiser. But even with mounting frustration, he tells her regardless.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Since Penelope's curse will only be lifted when she is accepted by "one of her own", both she and her parents assume that this means True Love's Kiss in the form of marriage to another blue blood. However, it turns out she had the power all along and is able to break the curse by accepting herself.
    • Edward seems to think he's the unfortunate protagonist of a Lovecraftian horror novella. His... perception of Penelope doesn't help, as he believes himself the only one who can see the "monster" for what she is and doesn't understand why no one agrees with him.