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Modern Fable 'Penelope' Teaches Beauty is in Eyes of Beholder


Christina Ricci and James McAvoy co-star in a modern-day romantic fable about a young couple, a family curse and learning to love. Alan Silverman has a look at Penelope.

Penelope was born with the nose of pig. Really. Her sweet, kind face features a dainty pig's snout.

It's all because of a generations-old curse on her family; and after a childhood of taunting playmates and a brutally inquisitive tabloid press determined to get pictures of the "pig girl," her parents have kept her locked away in their mansion. Now she's a young woman, and they must find her a spouse because, as it turns out, the only way to break the curse is for someone to love her for who she is. The trouble is, once she reveals her face, prospective suitors flee.

The only one who does not run is a down-on-his luck gambler named Max. At first he stays because a nosy reporter hires him to get photos of "Penelope;" but then he gets to know her and, eventually coaxes her out of seclusion.

She does venture out ...tentatively, at first with a scarf wrapped around her face; and eventually, when she discovers people accept her, she shows her face to the world, nose and all.

"I always thought we were making a fairy tale, but it was a modern-day fairy tale because her 'Prince Charming' doesn't come and save her," explains Christina Ricci, who stars as Penelope.

"I felt that this movie was an excellent opportunity for me to do a different kind of acting than I had really done before," she says, "because when we did the table read-through it kind of struck me that this could easily be an animated film. So then I thought maybe I'll have the same physicality that you would see in, sort of, Disney animation; and because half of my face is somebody else's, really, with the scarf and everything, I found that using that sort of style really worked and was really fun and it made everything else kind of fall into line for me."

Reese Witherspoon plays Annie, a rough-and-tumble motorbike messenger who befriends the newly-emerged Penelope and becomes her guide to the outside world. Oscar-winner Witherspoon also produced the film.

"It was a wonderful, fantastic, cinematic movie, but also at the center of it, had a great female character who is strong and ambitious, but definitely had a journey to go through to get to the place where she would find herself," Witherspoon says. "Sometimes I get frustrated that there are not a lot of great female characters out there that young women can look at and go 'I want to be like that ...that's awesome!' I feel like it would be nice to see more of them and I'm happy to be part of something where I feel like there's a great female character here that Christina plays and it could be inspiring to some people."

Scottish-born James McAvoy adopts an American accent to play Max and says his character learns as important a life lesson as "Penelope" does.

"It is not the curse that's powerful, it's the power that you give the curse," McAvoy says. "Respect yourself. Don't look for it from anybody else. Don't try to receive the adoration of others or acceptance from others because you'll never actually feel any benefit, even when you get it. Respect yourself and accept yourself and then other people can try and accept you. Until you respect yourself you'll get nothing."

Penelope is directed by Mark Palanker from a script by Leslie Caveny. The cast also features veteran comic actress Catharine O'Hara as the heroine's over-protective mother; and Peter Dinklage plays the tabloid journalist who learns to regret trying to invade other people's privacy.

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