Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for partial nudity and innuendo
Running time: 92 min.
Cast: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Ciaran Hinds, Shirley Henderson, Lee Pace, Tom Payne, Mark Strong
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Screenplay: David Magee, Simon Beaufoy (based on the novel by Winifred Watson)
An old-fashioned, whimsical comedy, and delightfully so, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day may not be substantive enough to make a big impact, but it's perfect for those times when looking for a light, non-taxing dessert film. Unlike another throwback in the theaters at the same time, Leatherheads, this one actually captures the essence of the comedies of the times in which it is set, with gentleman suitors, sassy dames, and plenty of decadent delights on display.
London during World War II isn't the best place for recently jobless Miss Guinevere Pettigrew (McDormand, Friends with Money), who is hungry, homeless and can't seem to get a job no matter how hard she tries. Taking a more aggressive approach, she overhears of a job opportunity meant for another while in the employment office, and soon she is on her way to claim her tenuous position as the social secretary for vivacious but ditzy American actress Delysia Lafosse (Adams, Charlie Wilson's War). Miss Pettigrew lands right into a mentor position she isn't quite familiar with, as Delysia is three-timing the trio of men who have fostered her career -- a headstrong club owner (Strong, Stardust), her amorous pianist (Pace, The Good Shepherd), and a young stage producer (Payne, "Waterloo Road". As she tags along, Miss Pettigrew finds herself rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, doing her best to fit in to this world. She isn't succeeding, but her lack of grace is matched by her refreshing no nonsense attitude.
Based on the 1938 Winifred Watson novel, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is an age-old formula fairy tale of someone on the bottom making her way to the top through character, karma and good intentions. This is a story driven more by likeable characterizations and its lush setting, and with attractive, capable actors, gorgeous costumes, catchy music, and sumptuous set design, it's a pleasant enough experience just to sit back and take in the sights and sounds. The tale takes some farfetched turns, and its notions of love don't run particularly deep, but these sorts of things can be overlooked due to the film's obvious homage to the films of yesteryear, where a girl and a guy could fall madly for each other despite not having more than one conversation.
Directed by TV veteran Bharat Nalluri (The Crow: Salvation, Tsunami: The Aftermath), it's an impressively mounted romance that is bolstered by a subtle, but still quite strong performance from McDormand, who knows well enough that it's her normalcy that separates her from the eccentric oddballs that inhabit the lifestyles of the rich and famous. She says more through a look or a nod than anything she says in the dialogue. Amy Adams may not quite be the stuff of Hollywood bombshells, but she does make a convincing turn as a scatterbrained beauty who knows well enough that what keeps her living high on the hog is her ability to catch the eye of men with money and power. Though Delysia finds it hard to commit to any one of them, she isn't afraid to use her allure to keep her men captivated. It also helps to have a charismatic male supporting cast that are used as more than good-looking mannequins, rather than just sticking in stock window dressing roles playing to established archetypes.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day may take its tone from the classics, but it won't likely become a classic itself. However, if you're in the mood for a contemporary effort to bring back the glitz and glamour of the olden days of romanticized high society, this effort may have you smiling just a little more at the end than you had been at the outset.
©2008 Vince Leo