Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

Very Good

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on March 27, 2008 in Fayetteville Free Weekly.

People often complain, "they don't make movies like they used to." But on occasion a film is made for that audience.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is such a film. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a well-acted comedy with enough old-fashioned qualities to make it an enjoyable experience for long-standing audiences.

Set in London in 1939, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is about middle-aged Guineveve Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), who has been discharged many times from her employment as a governess for her eccentric behavior. She becomes jobless with no prospects. She is bedraggled and destitute, relegated to eating at a soup kitchen at Victoria Station.

Totally rebuffed by an employment agency, Miss Pettigrew pilfers the address of a prospective job and goes to meet the would-be client. At the appointed address she encounters Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams), a flighty. man-crazy singer and actress who lives in a posh flat owned by one of her three boyfriends.

Miss Pettigrew rescues the young woman from several crises, and becomes her "social secretary." She is the voice of reason in a maelstrom of emotional conflict. And she herself learns to change and try new things.

Miss Pettigrew is the daughter of a vicar, and ironically Frances McDormand is the daughter of a minister. So one supposes there are a few personal touches in her performance.

Director Bharat Nalluri (TV's Tsunami: the Aftermath) doesn't have a firm hold on his material; at times it wobbles. He's not comfortable with the farcical elements. The story has stops and starts, and the ending is more convoluted than it should be. But it's a well-written, good-looking film and the cast is tops.

Screenwriters David Magee and Simon Beaufoy have adapted the novel by Winifred Watson (published in 1938) with some panache.

The role of Miss Pettigrew seems patented for Emma Thompson, but she's been there, done that. So Frances McDormand steps in.

Frances McDormand is a terrific actress, who won an Oscar as Best Actress playing Marge Gunderson in Fargo (1996), directed by her husband, Joel Coen. She is the only actress who ever won a Best Actress Oscar in a movie directed by her husband. She has appeared in five Coen Brothers' films, including her debut in Blood Simple. She married the older Coen brother after making that film in 1984.

As Miss Pettigrew, with unkempt hair, an ever-so-slight smile and perceptive eyes that reveal an active intelligence, McDormand weaves a character who is reenergized when she meets a younger female lightning rod.

Amy Adams sparkles as the younger woman, who is naive and vulnerable, yet forceful.

Ciaran Hinds is artful solidarity as Joe, who designs women's underwear and is attracted by Guinevere Pettigrew's strong character.

Lee Pace -- a Clive Owen look alike -- portrays the piano-playing Michael, who insists the fickle Delysia must choose between love or money. Shirley Thompson plays the conniving Edythe with delicious rancor.

While her husband was co-directing No Country for Old Men with his brother Ethan, Frances McDormand was making an 'Inviting Country for Older Women.'

It's a pleasant place to visit. On a very hectic day.


You might be interested in reading my most recent reviews, all of my reviews from this year, or all of my reviews from last year.

For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).


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