I always enjoy films that hearken back to an earlier era and the latest one is “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.” While certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, what sets this one a notch above all the rest is the great characters and the actors who play them. It also helps that its story seems to have a little bit for everyone.
Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) is the governess “of last resort living in pre-WWII Long. When she’s fired from her latest job it appears there is nothing left for her to do but live on the streets. That all changes when she finds the card of Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams), a job meant for someone else. Upon arrival it becomes apparent that Delysia is not in need of a governess for her children, but guards to make sure all the men in her life don’t co-mingle. There’s the young producer’s son Phil (Tom Payne) who is supposed to be put Delysia in the lead of his new play, Nick (Mark Strong) the controlling nightclub owner of a club Delysia sings at, and the lovesick Michael (Lee Pace) who knows who Delysia truly is but is constantly rejected due to his pauper-like status. When Miss. Pettigrew is plopped into the middle of the flighty actress’s love life she’ll learn a little something about herself in the course of the day.
What I really enjoyed about this movie is how old-timey it feels. It reminded me a lot of those old 1950’s screwball comedies with a distinct English feel which I really enjoyed. It made me want to go back and watch some of the older films to get a true idea of where this movie gets its inspiration. The movie also seamlessly folds in the beginnings of WWII with its message of not throwing away true love because life is short. The character of Delysia seemed like a Marilyn Monroe caricature which made me laugh and with McDormand playing the straight man it was a great relationship. I can’t describe all the things I liked because they really seem to work in the context of the movie, there’s just an overall feeling that comes from watching this that isn’t easy to explain, I think overall it just screams original. There is a little bit of something for almost everyone, of course there are no action or horror elements, but there is a great love story, drama, comedy, you name it.
There are some issues that didn’t affect my enjoyment but did bug others. The film is being billed as a romantic comedy when it’s really not. While there is romance Delysia really doesn’t get that much screen time. When she is it tends to be in situations where Miss Pettigrew can advance herself. The movie is really McDormand’s and I think Adams’ fans will be a bit disappointed by how little she has to do. The humor in this is also very subtle, there really aren’t any gut-busters and a few people in the audience were irritated that it wasn’t a laugh riot. A smaller gripe I had is how little the men get to do in this movie. Sure Ciaran Hinds gets a pretty meaty role but I wanted to focus more on Delysia’s relationships and they just seemed to be very flat. Her relationship with Phil is focused on quite a bit as well as her love for Michael. Mark Strong’s character, Nick, is the one who gets the least focus and it’s a shame because I found his character far more interesting than Phil’s. The movie also slows down quite a bit once Miss. Pettigrew is transformed. It starts very fast paced with her arrival at Delysia’s but once she has to start match making and is starting to fall in love herself it comes grinding to a halt. It isn’t until Delysia makes her choice at the end that the pace picks up.
The acting is truly what makes the flaws disappear. Amy Adams gives a fantastic performance on par with Marilyn Monroe in the role of Delysia. While some might see her as rehashing her Giselle character from “Enchanted” I found her to be full of humor and the best part of the film. I also have to commend “Pushing Daisies” Lee Pace in his role as Michael. I haven’t seen Pace play a normal leading man and this proves he can. He’s romantic; he sings and throws on a pretty convincing English accent. Hopefully this movie will lead to bigger roles for him. Mark Strong also is great as the weasly nightclub owner who I wish had more screen time and I also adored Shirley Henderson or “Moaning Myrtle” of “Harry Potter” fame as the scheming Edythe Dubarry. McDormand and Hinds give fine performances but nothing short of the 100% they always give. The weak link to me seemed to be young Tom Payne in the role of Phil. Every time he was on-camera I just tuned out and he started to get very annoying.
I would have to give “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” a 3.5/5. While some people will have definite reservations about it I thought the acting was phenomenal and the story was engaging.