Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Focus Features // PG-13 // March 7, 2008
Review by Jamie S. Rich | posted March 6, 2008
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There are some parties you remember because they are legendary disasters, and some you remember because they are so much fun, you don't think there will ever be a time that good again. If you're lucky, those parties might be one and the same. Most of the time, though, a party is just a party and they go by just like all the ones that came before them and do little to distinguish themselves from the future shindigs that will inevitably replace them.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is that kind of party.

The titular Pettigrew, as played by Frances McDormand, is the frumpy daughter of a preacher man. She has spent life all pent up within herself, judging others for their lack of moral character, and seeing bugaboos in every corner of pre-WWII England (a trait that disappears shortly after the opening credits, inexplicably). This bad attitude and her dowdy appearance have gotten her fired from a string of personal maid jobs; homeless and starving, she sneaks her way into one last job, finding herself in the overly stimulated world of Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams). Yes, "Delysia" is pronounced like an adjective for tasty food, and the young actress/singer is quite a dish. Hence, her three boyfriends: Nick, the oily nightclub owner (Mark Strong, subbing for Andy Garcia in the Andy Garcia role); Phil, the philandering son of a theatre producer (Tom Payne, looking like a young Dana Ashbrook); and the honest piano player who really loves her, Michael (Lee Pace, who looks like Steve Coogan's little brother).

Miss Pettigrew can't follow her snap judgment about Delysia's romantic misadventures as she is too quickly put to task juggling the various paramours and trying to keep from being outted as a fraud by a conniving fashion maven (Shirley Henderson). Can she keep Delysia from going too far in trying to get a part in Phil's musical? Can she get the girl out of Nick's criminal clutches? Will stalwart Michael win the day? In exchange for the moral make-over, Delysia gives Miss Pettigrew a physical one, introducing her to high society and a distinguished gentleman (Ciaran Hinds). It's a lot to handle in 24 hours, but this is a madcap farce, is it not?

Well, not. Though Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day kicks off at a screwball pace, the zaniness quickly slows. In its place is a charming but largely unexciting romantic comedy that plays it awfully safe. The tactic does yield results, to be sure. It's a pleasure to see Frances McDormand employ her considerable acting skills in a comic role, and I would sooner drown a bag of kittens than find fault in a delightful Amy Adams performance. It's just that by the end of the movie, you can't help but wonder what it was all for. Though director Bharat Nalluri and his two screenwriters (adapting a book by Winfred Watson) clearly emulate classic screwball comedies, the writing lacks any of the wit or zip that made those movies special. Whoever poured this champagne gave us almost an entire glass of fizz without any of that wonderful alcohol that might give us dizzy spells.

Even so, I'm giving a mild recommendation for Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. I may not have fallen in love with the film, but I did enjoy watching it. The story is solid, the Jazz Age style is well tailored, and as I said, the acting performances from the ladies can't be beat (Hinds and Henderson are also really good). In this dead zone post-Oscars and pre-Summer Blockbusters, it would be easy to do worse than a forgettable film that is actually decent. Fellas, Miss Pettigrew would also make a great date movie. She'll like it more than you, but there are more painful ways to earn points. Just make sure that even if she's ready to forget the movie, she's not ready to forget you!

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