The one thing every good fairy tale has taught us is that nothing is as it seems. A frog is a prince. A cat can talk. Living with seven vertically challenged men can be dangerous.
"Penelope," a family-friendly film fairy tale, does not break with that tradition.
At face value — and what a face — this is the story of a young woman ( Christina Ricci) who is the unfortunate victim of a family curse. Because of an indiscretion by one of her blueblood relatives, she has what can only be called the world's most prominent birth mark.
Penelope's nose looks like a pig's snout. Only the love of "one of her kind" will reverse this condition.
Her loving but misguided parents (Catherine O'Hara, Richard E. Grant) have built a sanctuary for Penelope full of everything but human contact. If she ever hopes to end the curse, Penelope will have to find a suitor. That is easier said than done: One glimpse of Penelope sends potential husbands running like vegetarians at a pig roast.
They all bolt except for Max (James McAvoy). His gambling debts have put him a financial bind. That's when he agrees to pretend to be a potential hubby to help a bitter newspaper writer ( Peter Dinklage) get a photo of Penelope.
Even pretend love comes with all kinds of complications. And that sends Penelope, her face half hidden by a giant scarf, into the world to find her freedom.
Director Mark Palansky finds a quiet tone to present this engaging script by Leslie Caveny. That means the moral of this story (and all good fairy tales have a moral) is delivered with a light embrace instead of an emotional slap.
The real credit goes to Ricci. Whether it is the pig snout or the scarf, a large part of her face is hidden throughout most of the movie. Ricci manages to show with just her eyes the emotional pain, the joyful awakening of her senses and the innocent hope that exists inside this character.
There are other strong elements in the film, but revealing too much detail might jeopardize the discovery of all of the elements that aren't what they seem.
"Penelope" deals with a host of issues, the most obvious about learning to deal with something that might set a person apart from the crowd. It is the kind of movie that should stimulate conversations. When a movie does that, then everyone lives happily ever after.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun