CAPSULE: Bharat Nalluri directs the story based on a novel by Winifred Watson of a luckless and now jobless governess who manages to cheat her way into a position as a social secretary for an attractive but scatterbrained actress. Pettigrew, who never had much luck managing her own life, finds she is perfect in this job and can use it to help guide the actress to a better life. The story uses too many contrived coincidences and has too many major characters we just do not care about. The cast is good, but the material lets them down. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
We are in late 1930s London, a city still in the clutches of the Great Depression and just weeks away from entering World War II. Guinevere Pettigrew (played by Frances McDormand) is in the clutches of her own personal depression. The widow seems unable to hold a job as a governess. Out of work and alone, she haunts soup kitchens to get what food she can. When she hears of a job working for an actress Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams) she steals the calling card with the address and tells the actress that the agency sent her. Little does she know that in hours this job would thrust her into the glamorous world of the beautiful people.
This all could have been done with a Frank Capra sort of feel. But there were small problems with the script. For me overall the writing did not quite work. First there are multiple important coincidences that occur to drive the plot. This leaves the story with a contrived feel. And whatever good things come to Pettigrew would not if she did not have enormous good luck. We may be happy for her, but we do not feel her betterment came from her personal virtues but because by chance she was lucky.
Still, the Capra-like plot might have worked if the characters were appealing. Their being decent people would be their chief virtue. Francis McDormand's Miss Pettigrew schlemiel does have our empathy at the beginning, but by the middle of the film she no longer seems the same Chaplinesque quality. Once her luck is working for her and she seems a different character. Much of the initial empathy wears off as she seems to know just the right thing to do. Having better luck could have been a matter of chance, but her savoir-faire seems to come out of no place. Even Pettigrew seems puzzled that things start working out for her. Her talent is neither explained nor motivated. Her new capabilities are used to the benefit of Delycia. I Pettigrew loses empathetic values Delycia never really has them in the first place. In her scatter-brained way Delycia is managing to string along three men for her own purposes and is getting professional advantage using sex. Miss Pettigrew is helping her to get what she wants out of life and the viewer may be less than sure she deserves it. The smart set on London society never have come off as so liberal in a film before. Immediately they seem to accept Pettigrew as one of their own, even with her in her mousy brown lower class clothing. Nobody gives her appearance another thought.
Francis McDormand in the title role is a good actress and is sufficiently convincing as a Londoner even being familiar from American film, particularly those of the Coen Brothers going back to their first film BLOOD SIMPLE. She is quite believable in the part until the script calls for her to be beautiful. She is not the traditional image of Hollywood beauty. That description could to Amy Adams as Delysia. Most of the audience will remember Adams for ENCHANTED. I missed that film, but she was very good in 2005's JUNEBUG. Her character was a bit irritating here, but that may be right for the character and she plays it to the hilt. John de Borman's camera plays up her attractiveness and repeatedly manages by just micro-millimeters to preserve here modesty in scenes in which she is obviously nude. Ciaran Hinds as seems to show up in a lot of films these days. In the last few months he has been in MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, and IN BURGES. In our household, however, his signature role was as Julius Caesar in HBO's ROME miniseries. Here as Joe Blumfield he plays the only character whose gravitas seems to match Pettigrew's. Rounding out the roster of familiars is Shirley Henderson whom we see in a lot of films, but is probably best known as Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films.
MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY is a fluffy little comedy that calls heavily on its actors to make its characters amiable. Somehow the characters never manage to make it all the way to likable. This film works as a quick throwaway comedy, only 90 minutes long, but is likely to be quickly forgotten. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0970468/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper