Due to a family curse, blue-blood Penelope (Ricci) is born with a pigs snout for a nose, and must fall in love with her own kind to break the curse. Enter a succession of suitors, including Edward (Simon Woods) and Max (McAvoy), keen to try their luck.
Relatives - who'd have ’em? The aristocratic Wilhern family are cursed after an ancestor offends the local witch who, in a beautiful piece of social engineering, decrees that their next-born daughter will have the face of a pig until “one of her own kind” can learn to love her regardless.
Having successfully faked their daughter’s death to avoid press attention, pig-nosed Penelope’s parents (Catherine O’Hara and Richard E. Grant) start roping in every chinless wonder in the country for a spot of matchmaking or, failing that, a tightly written legal gag on spreading word of their offspring’s unusual hooter.
Penelope’s tendency to poke said nose in before the deal is sealed means that horrified suitor Edward (Simon Woods) flees, and is so annoyed when the world refuses to believe him that he pays journalist Lemon (Peter Dinklage) to out her. The pair hire a loveably shaggy gambler called Max (James McAvoy) to get proof. No prizes for guessing what happens next, but there are plenty of enjoyable twists to overcome once Max falls in love with the ‘real’ Penelope.
As the best indie fables either star Christina Ricci or have been made with her in mind, it’s nice to see her do something more than look winsomely ethereal. While she does stand around looking picturesque in beautifully made clothes, Penelope’s also got some gumption. When nobody rescues her from her ivory tower, Penelope goes off to rescue herself instead. It’s here that the story gets muddled: wrapping her face in a scarf like a preposterously poorly disguised bank robber, she goes shopping, rides on Vespas with new chum Reese Witherspoon and, when her identity is revealed, becomes a media star - which makes the story’s focus somewhat muddled.
Penelope’s world is a nylon version of Amélie, an impeccably dressed London/New York hybrid where impoverished gamblers live in vast brick lofts overlooking twinkling cityscapes. The one glitch comes from the schnozz itself. Considering the horse-faced appearance of much of the British aristocracy, throwing yourself out of a window when confronted by Christina Ricci sporting a dainty pig nose is absurd. Still, the convictions of the cast and an extremely snappy script fill in most of the gaps caused by the wobbly plotlines.
Penelopes about as convincingly ugly as Claudia Schiffer with sunburn, but thats a small flaw in an otherwise lovely fairy tale.