When middle-aged Guinevere (Frances McDormand, "Fargo," "Friends with Money") arrives to meet Miss Holt (Stephanie Cole, "Grey Owl") for a new assignment having lost her last one due to the latest unfortunate misunderstanding, Miss Holt declares her 'the governess of last resort.' With no prospects, no friends and no money, Guinevere steals the business card of Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams, "Enchanted") from Miss Holt's desk and is swept into a most fortunate misunderstanding where, finally, "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day."
An Oscar winner and nominee take time out for a lark - "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" is a lighter than air concoction that plays like "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" crossed with "Pocketful of Miracles." This broad farce is an enjoyable meringue of a movie albeit one of little staying power.
During her dismissal by Miss Holt, we learn that although Miss Pettigrew is the teetotaling daughter of a minister, her appreciation for subversive humor gets her into trouble. Then, before the opening credits have finished rolling, we witness the nanny who's lost her job lose her possessions (an ex-con offers to help her gather her opened suitcase, scaring her away) and even her dinner when she's jostled at a soup kitchen while witnessing an assignation. Both encounters will cross over into her soon to change future.
Arriving at the door of Delysia Lafosse, she's immediately swept in to help the distraught bonbon in pink satin and offers to get Phil (Tom Payne) out of bed - but Lafosse had not applied to Miss Holt for a nanny and Phil is a bigger boy than Miss Pettigrew is used to. Delysia, it appears, is living in the apartment of her employer, club owner Nick (Mark Strong, "Syriana," "Stardust") while auditioning for a lead role with Phil under Nick's covers and being seriously wooed by her piano man Michael (Lee Pace, "Infamous," "The Good Shepherd"), the ex-con jailed for attempting to steal a diamond for Delysia from the Tower of London. After her initial shock, Miss Pettigrew seizes the day and proves a quick affinity for managing Delysia's love life. The drab nanny is given a makeover to attend a fashion show where Guinevere meets designer Joe (Ciarán Hinds, HBO's "Rome," "There Will Be Blood") who is quite taken with her despite his off again on again engagement to Edythe Dubarry (Shirley Henderson, "Intermission," "Marie Antoinette"), the woman Miss Pettigrew spied from the soup kitchen.
Working with David Magee ("Finding Neverland") and Simon Beaufoy's ("The Full Monty") adaptation of Winifred Watson's 1938 novel, director Bharat Nalluri (TV's "Tsunami: The Aftermath") gives us a throwback to the type of early thirties movies Carole Lombard (namechecked here) and Jean Harlow used to star as if sanitized by the Hayes Code for wit. Sure there is sexual innuendo and a nice running gag where Guinevere's attempts to eat keep getting foiled, but the film is too nice when it should be more biting. This isn't the fault of Amy Adams's cupcake of a character ('Have you ever been hypnotized by a snake? That's what they do to furry little animals') whose kewpie doll cooings are endearing, but a nostalgia for the times that sugarcoats (even "Mrs. Henderson Presents" dealt with such realities as abortion and suicide) despite soup kitchens and war losses. There's just too much an air of artificiality about the whole thing, as if we're watching a stage version of a movie.
"Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" feels too small for McDormand and Adams, although both are certainly fine in their roles. Adams, especially, is nicely matched with her sexually precocious yet still naive bombshell and, as in "Enchanted," exhibits a pure singing voice dueting with Pace. Yet as also was the case in "Enchanted," Adams already seems too old for these roles, a thirty-something playing at twenty-something. McDormand gives her character the right amount of starch too allow for some humorous give in Pettigrew's fabric and her romance with Hinds's Joe is the most natural and genuine part of the film. In contrast, the trio wooing Lafosse all play to the rafters, with Pace showing the most restraint as the most true of heart. Henderson's conniving Dubarry is the type of role she could play in her sleep.
"Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" is a short story masquerading as a novel. It's sweet but it is also airless when it should be breathy.
Robin did not see this film.
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