MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY

PG_13, 92 min, 2008

Director: Bharat Nalluri
Writers: David Magee (screenplay) and Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Winifred Watson (novel)
Stars: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Ciarán Hinds

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is essentially one hyperkinetic trailer squeezed out of a slow, never laugh-out-loud funny, but all-around likable 92-minute farce.

Frances McDormand is the title character, Guinevere Pettigrew, a starving governess in London on the precipice of World War II, who is out of yet another job. At the employment agency one day, she snags the chance to poach a new gig from some poor woman (a success story, I gather) and absconds to her new place of employment. She arrives at the home of Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams of Junebug and Enchanted), a starry-eyed aspiring actress; if you’ve seen any of the good hits of the past few years, she was probably in the background! Miss Pettigrew demonstrates remarkable improvisational skills and the ability to keep the wolves at bay from poor Delysia.

You see, Delysia has three (3!) boyfriends: there’s the potentially violent nightclub owner Nick (Mark Strong), whose flat Delysia’s staying at. Then there’s the burgeoning young theater director Phil (Tom Payne), who Delysia is sleeping with on the side; she’s seeking a leading role in his new stage production. Finally, there’s sad-eyed Michael (Lee Pace of TV’s Pushing Daisies) who loves Delysia but will not be played for a fool; he’s the only one who truly sees her for who she is. Factor in a fashion magnate (Ciaran Hinds, formerly of TV’s Rome) with his eye on Miss Pettigrew, and his on-again/off-again engagement to the cold, adulterous Edythe (Shirley Henderson), and you have the makings of a screwball comedy (like the one the trailer promises).

Unfortunately, this film somehow never manages to really take off in that direction. It’s nice and funny in a chuckle-every-couple-minutes sorta way, and perfectly watchable, but it’s nothing to get all hot and bothered over. McDormand and Adams are the sole lives of this party, and Hinds is a likable potential love interest for Miss Pettigrew.

The direction by Bharat Nalluri (Tsunami: The Aftermath) is fairly mundane early on, picking up a bit once Miss Pettigrew and Delysia are removed from Nick’s flat, and actually taking on just the briefest dash of poignancy and would-be screwball comedy toward the end; it’s all something of a mixed-bag.

Still: the characters all get what they deserve in the end (was there any doubt?) and you’ll have a passable hour-and-a-half getting there with them. Not a necessity, but more of a pleasant diversion should you find yourself in its general vicinity.

Note: A neat bit of trivia…Mark Strong, who plays Nick, was in two completely unrelated films by the name of Sunshine: Istvan Szabo’s 1999 Hungarian epic, and Danny Boyle’s 2007 sci-fi/horror film.

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