James McAvoy and Christina Ricci star in Penelope.

James McAvoy and Christina Ricci star in Penelope.

The Movie: Penelope (2006)
The Pairing: Max/Jonny (James McAvoy) and Penelope (Christina Ricci)
The Moment: Penelope and Max Fall in Love

SPOILERS


Without a flowery preamble, the most straightforward description of Penelope is a compliment – that it is the ideal contemporary fairytale. It’s the kind of film fairy tale addicts wish came around more frequently. Sadly, the reality is this kind of story only visits us every few years… and that’s if we’re lucky. If you’ve not seen the film, it’s a modern role-reversal of Beauty and the Beast. This time, it’s the girl who suffers a deformity (she’s cursed with a pig nose and ears) and is in need of true love from a blue blood to break the curse. The trouble is, Penelope’s mother is something of a control freak who believes that by placing her daughter in a bachelorette setting, she can secure her the perfect man. Instead, Penelope’s deformity scares away every blue blood her mother finds… and then Max enters her life.

This modern day fable has a message relevant to today’s obsession with body image while also including one of the most charming little romances I’ve seen to date. Instead of one primary romantic moment, however, the entire film plays like a romantic sequence as Max (who we later discover is actually named Jonny) and Penelope fall in love in a story that is as much Max’s story as it is the titular leading lady’s.

The Lead In

Leading up to the actual romantic moment  is another particularly sweet scene between Max and Penelope involving their first introductory meeting. Carefully hidden inside her room (behind a two-way glass window), Penelope spies Max still in the room (where she has just single-handedly scared off a dozen men). For a moment, she says nothing, instead studying the only man who didn’t run (because he didn’t see her), and then finally, “You’re still here. Did you see?”

Startled, Max realizes he’s being observed tucking away an expense tome. Looking around, he sees no one. Spinning around, he tries to locate the voice.

“You didn’t see,” she surmises referencing her nose, more statement than question. In reply to his teasing, with a sassy tone she says, “Don’t mess with me.” Noticing he holds a book, she asks him if he’s a fan of the author of the book he has; he clearly is clueless to the man’s identity.

Without missing a beat, she concludes he was about to walk out with the book and continues, “There are three hundred and twenty-six first editions in that room. Of those, three hundred are worth over fifty thousand, a dozen or so are worth over twenty-five thousand and I’m afraid there’s only one that’s valued under a hundred.”

Curious, he replies, “You don’t say, under a hundred? Only one, huh?”

Even without seeing her, Max understands the confession. His statement about the book is simply, “But your favorite just the same.”

Just before he walks out the door, she asks, “Will you be back tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” he says with a smile as he backs out the door.

Their days continue much the same. They talk, play chess and Penelope attempts to find Max’s talent. She puts him through the playing of every named instrument, finally settling on the piano as his apparatus. But when he sits down to play with the same lack of talent (though we later learn he’s pretending and is actually a talented pianist), she emerges from her room and their first physical contact is initiated…

Watch the scene below:

The Romantic Moment

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD (you’ve been warned)

Eventually, time elapses following Max’s refusal of Penelope’s marriage proposal (because he’s not actually a blue blood and couldn’t break the curse for her), and Penelope declaring independence. She eventually discovers that the only person needed to break the curse was herself by learning to love herself the way she is. Soon after she breaks the curse, she finally follows her dreams. Elsewhere, Max (real name Jonny) cleans up his act (he’s a gambling addict), and when the stars align, Penelope goes after him. On Halloween, she dons a popular pig nose mask and knocks on his door. Inside she finds him packing his bags with the city in his rearview.

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Opening the conversation, safely hidden behind her mask, she asks the obvious, “So, are you moving?”

He replies that he feels it best he get out of the city and the poker tables in order to facilitate his recovery.

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Replying, she asks what she already knows, “Oh, so you’re a gambler?”

Ex, he emphasizes.

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Continuing to chatter about having a friend who was a gambler, Max’s breaking heart can no longer take it. This woman reminds him too much of Penelope, the girl he loves. With intensity he interrupts her saying, “Take off the mask.”

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Taken aback, Penelope remains masked unsure how next to react.

Max’s apology follows as he explains why he asked her to remove her mask. “I’m sorry,” he says, continuing on, “All Halloween I’ve been running into someone I used to know.”

Expectantly, Penelope asks, “This someone – she meant a lot to you?”

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With an almost painful reverence, softly Max answers, “Yes, yes she did.”

They continue conversing as Penelope wonders what happened. Max replies that he couldn’t give her what she wanted which was to be free.

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Unable to keep up the guise any longer, Penelope spots Max’s piano and marching over to it she begins to chastise him for lying to her. Instead of letting her finish, as she walks past him, and with a smile, Max tugs her arm, swings her around and soundly kisses her.

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Breaking off the kiss, Max tries to explain he cannot break the curse. Reaching to remove the mask, Penelope tells him it’s okay… she did.

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In a moment of pure screenplay magic (because of what happened when they first came face-to-face), Max staggers back as if aghast at what he sees. Taking in this new face… the face not of the woman he fell in love with, but someone else.

“It’s me, Max,” she professes.

“My name’s Jonny,” he responds.

“I know. Jonny…” Shrugging her shoulders, she finishes, “I’m still me.”

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Gently reaching up to touch her face, Jonny pulls her close again, and as the music swells, they share a kiss.

Have a look at the scene in this “I’m Still Me” movie clip:

I adored this film from the moment I saw it, but every time I revisit it, the romance (and entire scope of the film) becomes a little more beautiful. Underrated as it is, it boasts one of the most expressive romances on screen. What do you think of this romantic moment? Do you like this film or have you seen it? Comment down below with your thoughts. I’d love to read them.


Photos: Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment

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