‘Penelope’ provides new spin on old fairy tale

Christine Guerrini

In a string of recent movies, from “Enchanted” to “Shrek the Third,” Hollywood turned to fairy tales for inspiration.

“Penelope,” the latest movie to follow this trend, takes a slightly different approach.

Penelope Wilhern (played by Christina Ricci) isn’t just any fairy tale princess. In fact, she’s the farthest thing from the traditional, beautiful heroine.

Instead, Penelope, the daughter of two wealthy aristocrats (played by Catherine O’Hara and Richard E. Grant), suffers from a family curse.

Her great-great-great-grandfather incurred the wrath of the town witch, and as a result, the witch destined the first Wilhern daughter to be born with the face of a pig.

Because of Penelope’s pig nose, her mother fakes Penelope’s death and hides her away in the family’s mansion.

Meanwhile, the family works diligently to break the curse. Penelope must “be loved by one of her own kind” in order to free herself. Taking this to mean finding a blue-blooded husband, Penelope’s mother hires a matchmaker and attempts to find her Prince Charming.

Penelope’s room, which looks somewhat like a fantasy garden, lies behind a window that she can see out of but no one can see in.

After seven years of disappointment, one man unlike the others appears. Max (James McAvoy) begins as a spy for a previous suitor, Edward Vanderman Jr. (Simon Woods), and a reporter (Peter Dinklage). However, after several visits, Max forgets about the money and convinces Penelope to stop hiding from the world. She escapes the confines of her mansion and ventures into the world to find herself.

The movie captures the element of fantasy through the use of vibrant colors and slow-motion camera techniques. Despite the low budget-“Penelope” was made as an independent film-the set design is quite well done. Ricci’s costumes are interesting and slightly quirky as well, setting her apart from the other characters.

Ricci, whose innocent portrayal of Penelope made her all the more endearing, received the script from long-time friend Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon both acted in and produced the film.

“After doing so many dramatic films like Black Snake Moan, I physically couldn’t cry anymore,” Ricci said.

“It wasn’t a strategic move to pick a [romantic comedy], I just physically couldn’t do another drama. ‘Penelope’ is about being an individual . . . and learning how to love yourself.”

Ricci was attracted to the positive message and the new twist of loving oneself to break the curse.

Ricci also had nothing but compliments for her fellow cast members.

“James [McAvoy] is extremely talented,” she said. “He’s a gentle soul. I’ve been a big fan of Catherine O’Hara for a long time, and getting to work with her was amazing.”

“Penelope,” which hits theaters Feb. 29, has a sweetness that grows through the film.

At times the outrageous premise may seem cheesy, but afterward it brings a smile to the audience.

Watch this feel-good movie as a late Valentine’s Day date.