Penelope, a movie about a girl born with a pig snout, was released in 2008 with little critical attention. With little attention of any kind, really.

But through the wonder that is Super Channel on demand, I watched it.

Now I wouldn’t go and give it any kind of award, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought.

It’s a fairytale, much like Beauty and the Beast, where a girl is cursed and needs to find someone to see past her ugliness and marry her.  Well really they just need to marry her, they don’t have to like it.  And she’s not really that ugly.  She is more like a beautiful pig, than a hideous woman.

Penelope Christina RicciBut that seems to be part of the point.  If she’s not that terrible, then maybe society is the problem.  I like that.

Throughout her entire life, her family has treated her like a freak, and taught her that her face is the only thing holding her back from true happiness.  Hello, internalized hate.

And then there’s her mother.  Catherine O’Hara is fabulous in this role as the seemingly well-intentioned, hyper-critical mother.  She’s neurotic, high-strung and judgmental.  She tells Penelope that she loves her, and wants what’s best for her, but her actions as a mother tell Penelope that she isn’t good enough.  I can relate to that.

Peter Dinklage plays the sneaky reporter that spends his life trying to get a glimpse (and a picture) of the pig girl.

I heart Dinklage.  He’s an excellent actor, and when warranted, has a great sense of humour about his height (have you seen the 30 rock episode?)

In this movie, however, he really isn’t playing “the little person.”  He is just playing a guy, and playing that guy well. Love it.

The extremes in this movie make it both enjoyable, and clever.  Her mother’s over the top character, the ridiculous reactions of suitors, and fake deaths, make modern society and treatment of outsiders so obviously absurd.

One thing I couldn’t quite figure out was why several characters were British. A child here, a suitor there.  Not everyone, but not just one or two.  I was completely confused.

My biggest criticism is that the girl who is smart the whole way through, still agrees to marry the bad guy even after she has seen the outside world.  This doesn’t make a much sense to the story, nor to her character. She discovers that people still like her once they’ve seen her, and she realizes she can survive without her parents.  So what gives? Why would she marry a guy who publically slanders her, runs away, and is cruel.

My other criticism is that the story is still focused on finding a man to be happy.  She may have been free, but she is never really happy until she gets to make out with Johnny/Max (the delicious James McAvoy).

James McAvoy PenelopeIt would be unfair to judge someone in real life for this desire.  After all, many people want a partner to go through life with, and many want that partner to be a man.

But movies don’t represent real life – particularly not movies like this. Movies have a unique opportunity to change the way that things usually go, and give characters the strength, and free thought that real people can’t always have.

It would have suited her character well to be happy living life for a while — after all, she was finally free of the task of finding a suitor.

But since she had to find a man, I am glad it was a decent man.  Max/Johnny didn’t care that she was weird looking.  He never had to come around, he never had to try to love her.  He just did.  And that’s an OK message to send.

This fairytale is better than others that have come before it because the moral of the story is that the girl must learn to love herself, not find love from others, in order to be saved.

While it still suggests that the pretty is better, maybe we’re all a little prettier when we stop all the hate.


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