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Overall Rating

Awesome: 30.43%
Worth A Look: 30.43%
Just Average39.13%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

3 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Amy, You Not-So-Ignorant Slut!"
3 stars

Watching Frances McDormand and Amy Adams going through their paces in the new period screwball comedy “Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day” is a lot like watching a couple of piano prodigies running through their scales or a rudimentary tune or two as a warm-up for a big recital–everything is technically flawless and entertaining enough but as they go through their paces, you instinctively realize that this is stuff that they can do in their sleep and that they are saving their energy for the main event where they can challenge themselves with material that is far more risky and daring. The problem with “Miss Pettigrew” is that the entire film is nothing but warm-up material and just at the point when we are ready for them to tackle something of substance, the end credits begin rolling and we are left milling about in the parking lot reflecting on that immortal musical question “Is That All There Is?”

Set in London in 1939, the fiercely prim and proper Guinevere Pettigrew (McDormand) has been fired from her position as a nanny for a rich and seemingly awful family. As it turns out, Miss Pettigrew is the Michael Dorsey of British domestics and has a long history of getting fired from the employ of families who fail to live up to her high moral and ethical standards. Of course, as the owner of her employment agency points out, her job is to conform to the family and not the reverse and since this has gone on for so long, she no longer has any employment opportunities for Miss Pettigrew. Broke, homeless and hungry, Pettigrew is driven to desperation and when she spots a request on the boss’ desk for what she believes is a new nanny gig, she grabs the lead and rushes over to snatch the job before someone from the agency can arrive. When she arrives at the ultra-swanky digs, however, she discovers that the prospective employer is not a family but a flighty American actress-singer with the marvelous (if improbable) moniker of Delysia Lafosse (Adams) who is in the market for a social secretary (mostly because she has learned that a rival has hired one for herself) and that Delysia is in the middle of an indelicate situation involving one man in her bed and the imminent arrival of another, the one who actually owns the luxury apartment in question.

Against her better judgement, Pettigrew gets the one man out and the other one in without anyone being the wiser (even taking a bullet for the team in the form of an especially stinky cigar) and when things finally settle down, Delysia implores her to take the job and help her through what will be a busy day of clothes shopping, job hustling and, inevitably, juggling a trio of men. One is Nick (Mark Strong) the sleazy owner of both the apartment and the lush nightclub where Delysia is the featured singer. Another is errant bedmate Phil Goldman (Tom Payne), a would-be theatrical impresario who is using Daddy’s money to put on a show with a part that Delysia might be perfect for, so long as she demonstrates how much she wants it (an judging by the look on his face the morning after, she wants it a lot). Finally, there is poor-but-honest pianist Michael (Lee Pace), who has no money or prospects but does have a fierce love and devotion for Delysia. Alas, even he can only take so much and having just been released from 30 days in jail after a previous proposal attempt went badly, he announces that he is setting sail for America that night and that if she doesn’t join him, they will never see each other again.

Clearly, Pettigrew has her work cut out for her but as it turns out, things quickly become even more complicated. While accompanying Delysia to a lingerie show, Pettigrew meets Joe (Ciaran Hinds), a nice man of a certain age who turns out to be a highly-renowned fashion designer. It turns out, however, that he is engaged to faithless two-timer Edythe Dubarry (Shirley Henderson), whose treachery can be sensed merely from the way she spells her first name, and when he breaks that engagement over a suspected infidelity, Delysia implores Pettigrew to speak to Joe on Edythe’s behalf so that he will take her back. One small problem–since she knows first-hand of Edythe’s infidelity, Pettigrew’s sense of propriety will make doing such a thing difficult, not to mention her own feelings for Joe. One big problem–Edythe knows that Pettigrew is not who she claims to be and threatens to spill the beans if she doesn’t get Joe back into her clutches.
Oh yeah, while all this is going on, war is beginning to rear its ugly head and make all of these romantic confusions staggeringly irrelevant.

Although the plot mechanics of “Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day” are chaotic and freewheeling as you can imagine, this is one of those films where practically anyone in the audience who has seen more than three movies can pretty much figure out how everything gets resolved and it is this predictability that finally winds up working against the film. Look, I like easy-going entertainments as much as anyone else but “Miss Pettigrew” is so resoundingly unchallenging that it soon begins to grow a little tiresome. Perhaps director Bharat Nalluri and screenwriters David Magee and Simon Beaufoy (who were respectively responsible for “Finding Neverland” and “The Full Monty”) realized this early on and thought that if they make the action twice as frantic, audiences might be too distracted (or exhausted) to notice. This isn’t a bad idea in theory but, based on the evidence supplied here, none of them seem to have any real working idea of how to go about doing a knockabout farce of this type–while things do eventually settle down a bit, the opening half-hour is done in such a grotesquely broad fashion that the film never quite recovers. I also had a problem with their attempts to make the material seem a little more serious-minded by shoehorning in the stuff involving the imminent war–since you and I both know that there is no way that a film along these lines going to with sweet Amy Adams and sensible Frances McDormand dying in agony during the London Blitz, why bother even including it in the first place except as a way to include some cheap melodrama in the final reels?

What saves “Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day” from complete disposability are the two lead performances from Frances McDormand and Amy Adams. Granted, both are playing well within their comfort zones–McDormand is the smart and sensible type who remains unflappable in the face of situations that render most people throughly flapped and Adams is the adorably flighty type who is so charming and seemingly guileless, even during her most craven moments of self-absorption, that only a churl would fail to succumb to her charms–but both of them go through their admittedly familiar paces with the kind of skill and practiced ease of actors in a long-running play who know exactly how to milk a moment for maximum impact with a minimum of effort. As Pettigrew, McDormand gets off to a slightly awkward start but as the story progresses, she gets more and more into the character until we find ourselves silently rooting for her to find happiness even though we know that is essentially a fait accompli. As Delysia, Adams has even less to work with and yet comes up with an equally winning performance that somehow invests her inherently loathsome character with a genuine sense of sweetness and innocence despite her often sordid behavior–imagine a somewhat sluttier version of the fairy-tale princess that Adams played in “Enchanted” and you will have an idea of what she has done this time around.

“Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day” is not much of a movie by any means–it is awfully predictable and some of the attempts at whimsy grow irritating after a while–and I can’t say that I will even watch it again in this lifetime (except maybe for the moment when Amy Adams does her impression of Uma Thurman’s memorable entrance on the half-shell in “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.”) That said, it does have its charms and while I can’t entirely recommend it, I am not exactly sorry that I saw it. If, after reading this, the film doesn’t seem remotely interesting to you at all, you can easily skip it without a single pang of regret. However, if it does sound like it might be your cup of tea, you might want to consider ignoring most of what I have written and checking it out for yourself.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17005&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/07/08 00:17:23
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User Comments

6/25/19 Suzanne The two stars are terrific! 4 stars
9/20/08 Annie G Nice period atmosphere but extremely predictable plot. 3 stars
4/08/08 shaw not my fav time setting 3 stars
3/12/08 CC O'Neill Saw it twice - will go again. Very special movie!!! 5 stars
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  07-Mar-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Aug-2008



Directed by
  Bharat Nalluri

Written by
  David Magee
  Simon Beaufoy

  Frances McDormand
  Amy Adams
  Ciarán Hinds
  Shirley Henderson
  Lee Pace

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