Over the weekend I saw the movie Penelope. I think this film may have flown under the radar, but I highly recommend you seek it out. I saw it streaming on the Wii with Netflix. Go watch it! You won’t regret it!
The movie has a very clear structure taken from fairy tales, and I thought it was something I could learn from and apply to my own writing. One of the first things the film does is set up the mythology of the story. Briefly: the Wilhern family is cursed so that the next girl born will be born with the face of a pig. The curse will only be broken when she finds one of her own kind who will promise to love her “till death do you part.”
So, right from the start, the audience knows what the obstacles are and what the characters want. Penelope (Christina Ricci) is born, she has a pig face, she grows up, her mother tries and tries and tries and tries to find someone to marry her. Enter James McAvoy.
Okay, now since I really do think a lot of people missed this movie, I’m not going to say what happens from there except that the curse is broken (you kind of knew that was coming, right?), but in an unexpected way. I love when books and movies play with expectations like this. How disappointing would it have been if Penelope had met Max (McAvoy), they fell in love, and lived happily ever after? Of course as a viewer, you want a happy ending, and the script (by Leslie Caveny) delivers, just not the way you are led to believe it will.
So the writers’ crib notes from Penelope: set up the expectations, then knock them down, but meet them, too.