After a patrician lout knocks up his serving-girl lover and is coerced by his family into not doing the noble thing (by instead doing the typical nobleman thing), her witchy mother lays a curse on the bloodline of the family. From now on, the females will bear the snout of a pig until they earn “the love of one of their own.”
Flash forward past five generations of male heirs, and finally the curse finds a target: young and otherwise beautiful Penelope (Christina Ricci). With plastic surgery carrying a cost that even their money can’t cover, the horrified parents sequester her while they surreptitiously troll for the proper suitor who may lift the curse. Suitors come, suitors run screaming. It’s sort of the flip side of the old Twilight Zone episode, “Eye of the Beholder.” Eventually the media pick up on the story and do what the media do best with exploitable material. In due course, a threadbare aristocrat (James McAvoy) is sent in as a Trojan suitor to score photographic evidence of the hideous creature.
Of course, this being what it is, a Beauty and the Beast for the teenybopper set, there’s never really any suspense as to how that bit will turn out. Hollywood has never shown a knack for magic realism, and Penelope doesn’t lift that curse. The narrative and direction are uneven (to be expected, in that the flick sat on the shelf for more than a year), but the cast manages to charm its way around the rough edges.
The two leads make for a nice couple, the subtext goes down smoothly enough, and Ricci has the perfect eyes for spending most of the movie with her snout concealed. Like Penelope herself, the heart of the movie is more charming than one would expect from its rough exterior. Not great, but more enjoyable than most recent Tinseltown attempts at romantic comedy.