Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lessons from Penelope

One of the best things about being a writer is that you can classify great activities like travel, movie-viewing, and reading as research.

I finally got around to watching Penelope this week. I had to split it between two different days, which is a real bummer, but I got it done.

If you haven't seen it before, Penelope Wilhern is a young woman from a wealthy family with all the qualities to make an excellent match for any other well-bred man of her status. However, the one thing that sets her apart is her nose, which resembles that of a pig.

Generations ago, an embittered witch placed a curse on the Wilhern family because their son had impregnated her daughter, one of their servants. The son offered marriage but his family refused and married him off to another. The witch’s daughter, overwrought, threw herself off a cliff. The witch cursed the Wilherns so that the next girl born into the clan would have the nose of a pig. For five generations, only sons were born into the family, until Penelope (Christina Ricci) was born, stricken with the curse. It is said that the curse can only be lifted if one of her own learns to love her, which is interpreted by her parents to mean a man of noble birth.

And so the hunt is on for a blue-blood who can stand the sight of her. Every man who lays eyes on Penelope takes flight at first sight, except for our wonderful hero, Max Campion (James McAvoy). And you’ll just have to watch to see how it all unfolds. I don't want to give stuff away.

As I viewed this movie, I was reminded of a couple things:

The need for a change to take place within the main character

What makes this movie, in my opinion, is the change that happens within Penelope as she comes to accept herself for who she is. Your main character has to change. Otherwise, there's no point. Like if the main character had been Penelope's mother (played by the fabulous Catherine O'Hara), the movie would've felt pointless, because she doesn't change. Not for real, anyway.

In a romance, the satisfaction of a heroine and hero who can do things on their own ... but are better together

We all need a little help sometimes, but it's important that your characters are also capable of standing on their own two feet. Penelope and Max sort out their lives apart from each other. You see how they could live independently just fine. But they also bring out the best in each other.

The satisfaction of REAL conflict

Not just one of those conflicts where if Penelope and Max would just talk to each other, they could work things out. There’s a moment where Max is going to be misinterpreted. I thought to myself, "Oh man, here it is. Here's where he should go explain himself to Penelope, but he's going to hang back." No. instead he RUNS TO PENELOPE TO EXPLAIN. Three cheers for whomever made that decision. And because he goes to her, the conflict is bigger and so much better.

The movie is 90 minutes long and completely worth your time.


  1. I loooove Penelope! Such a good movie, and the costumes are amazing, and James McAvoy....
    I like what you said about how it has a Real Conflict. I noticed that too - It was a nice change from all of the movies (and TV shows) where the conflict is really shallow.

  2. Interesting... I'll have to look into this movie. =D

  3. This is one of my all-time favorite movies. I really think teens could benefit to watching it! So good. :)

  4. I watched it! It is super-duper! Thanks for recommending it (and you're right, the hero running to Penelope to explain was stellar!)

  5. Wasn't it??? I was so delighted to see that! Drives me crazy when people just don't talk about something in movies/books/TV and there's no reason why.