Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci) has a problem -- and it isn't just her appearance. Born with the family curse, a pig snout instead of a human nose, is hard enough, but her mother's (Catherine O'Hara) obsessive attempts to keep her hidden from the public are even worse. Since birth, the little girl has been penned up in a colorful, well-furnished but solitary confinement on the family estate. Safe from inquisitive onlookers and prying paparazzi, her looks have remained a secret. Now, however, Penelope has grown up and to break the curse, she must find someone who will love her for who she is, face and all.
Hiring an agent (Ronni Ancona) from an upper scale dating service, Penelope's mother tries desperately to set her daughter up with a blue blooded young Englishman. But the sight of Penelope's pork-like feature sends the potential suitors running from the house, sometimes through a second story window.
Max Campion (James McAvoy), however, is different. The scruffy-looking young man is a compulsive gambler who seems intrigued with the pleasant young woman who keeps herself hidden behind a two-way mirror. But unbeknownst to the Wilherns, he's also being paid by Lemon (Peter Dinklage), an unscrupulous newspaper reporter, to snap a photo of the concealed heiress.
When the news of Max's secret mission finally breaks, Penelope covers her face with a scarf and escapes from the gated compound to experience life on her own. In a smoky pub, she orders beer on tap and becomes drunk after downing five pints of the brew. She also meets Annie (Reese Witherspoon), a rough-around-the-edges delivery girl who befriends the lonely socialite and introduces her to life on the streets.
This fairytale fable includes some sexually-oriented innuendo and comments, mostly about male anatomy, as well as some mild vulgarities and profanities. Smoking, frequent drinking and games of chance are also portrayed, along with a veiled depiction of suicide. Unfortunately, these adult-oriented behaviors distract from a message that is not only suitable, but also worthwhile for a larger portion of the movie viewing populace.
Once freed from the grasp of her overbearing mother and browbeaten father (Richard E. Grant), Penelope finds a whole new world of adventures and opportunities awaiting her in London. Rather than being handicapped by her unique appendage, Penelope discovers that sometimes the answer to life's challenges is as plain as the nose on your face.