Pep In Her Step
You can't give the screenwriter credit for subtlety when it comes to Peppy's name—she's, well, peppy. (Other acceptable names would have been "Sassy" and "Chipper." Her smile might not have the initial wattage that George's has…but she makes up for it by bounding across the silent screen and shaking her curls.
But she's also so much more than just a peppy face.
If George represents the world of silent film, Peppy is symbolic of the new, "talkie" era. She's the "fresh meat" that Zimmer speaks of—sure, she's the dancing legs behind the screen when George first meets her on set, but she's not just a body to be objectified.
Peppy's spirited, ambitious, resourceful and confident. She knows she has to get noticed to make it as an actress, so she takes advantage of getting thrown into the spotlight at George's premiere and plays glam for the cameras. Not only does she make the headlines the next day, but also the papers have everyone wondering "Who's that girl?"
It's basically an aspiring actress's dream.
Bérénice Bejo, who plays Peppy in the film, has said that director Hazanavicius (who's also her husband) created Peppy based on "the fantasy of me that he has in his head." Bejo admits that she's not as "perfect" as Peppy, who possesses an almost atomic vibrancy that threatens the stability of George's success. (Source)
Oh—about George. Peppy's enamored of George's celebrity and even wraps herself in his suit jacket while fantasizing about being embraced by him. It's hard to tell, at least initially, if she's more drawn to his dashing good looks or his insane fame.
And in some ways she owes her big break to him—he does invent her famous beauty spot, for example—but her rapid rise to fame is also her own making.
Born This Way
Peppy seems like the kind of woman who always knew she wanted to be an actress. She knows exactly how to pose for the camera, dances a killer Charleston, and always throws a wink or blows a kiss at the right moment.
And the public loves her. In fact, the newspapers cant stop yelling about how great she is. Check out these headlines:
Peppy Miller Shines in Beauty Spot
Peppy Miller: The Girl You'll Love to Love
Young, Pretty and Talking!
Peppy Miller, The Sound of Love
These are some glowing reviews…especially compared to today's tabloid headlines, where the most flattering thing that is usually said is "Stars—They're Just Like Us!"
In fact, Peppy's a product of her time in many ways. She's a great example of what the 1920s called the "New Woman," a flapper-esque gal who wears short skirts and is a bit more sexually free than the women of the past generation.
Early Hollywood was a pretty important time for feminism, because young, unmarried girls flocked there in droves to find jobs as screenwriters and actors. In her book Go West, Young Women! Hilary Hallett points out that "by 1920, Los Angeles had become the only western city where women outnumbered men." (Source)
Peppy Miller's character is one of these women, and her competition with George (who represents older patriarchal values) is more complex because of it.
Battle of the Stars
Although Peppy relishes her rise to the top, she is also wracked with guilt about George's decline. She goes to see his movie and ends up crying, not because it's "so bad," but because he's fallen so far from where he once was—something Peppy feels partially responsible for.
It's as if her success can only exist in relation to his failure. She shows up in the rain to apologize to him, but George also has a chip on his shoulder and is too stubborn to forgive her:
PEPPY: Hello, I wanted to talk to you…I just saw Tears of Love.
GEORGE: And you want a refund?
GEORGE: Not too much mugging?
PEPPY: No. I…I'm sorry about last night. I didn't mean what I said...
GEORGE: But you were right. Make way for the young...
We have to cut her a break—it's hard to apologize to someone who doesn't want to accept your apology. George is a little sensitive, but then again, Peppy can be tactless. When George ends up in the hospital after nearly dying in the fire, however, Peppy realizes how much she cares for him. She is touched by the fact that he rescued the reel of the film they acted in together and takes it as a gesture of forgiveness.
For all her good intentions and nurturing gestures, Peppy's actions are sometimes misinterpreted—like when she says that "people are tired of the old actors" in a radio interview, or when she buys all of George's stuff at the auction, both of which make him feel small and defeated.
Ultimately, though, she acts like a kind of guardian angel for George, arriving just in time to stop him from shooting himself and pushing him to overcome his fears and get back on set.
In the film's closing scene, Peppy and George take the stage together, bringing the worlds of old and new together and fulfilling both of their dreams. We're not surprised by this in the slightest—with energy like Peppy's, it's hard to imagine that she wouldn't manage to concoct a happy ending of her own design.