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March 19, 2008 > Movie Review: A delightful day with Miss Pettigrew

Movie Review: A delightful day with Miss Pettigrew

By Julie Grabowski

With old-fashioned style and swing, director Bharat Nalluri shows what a difference a day makes in the jaunty "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day." Based on Winifred Watson's 1938 novel, the movie jumps forward one year when World War II is looming over London but the games of high society life are still in full gear. "Miss Pettigrew" is an effervescent dash through 24-hours in the life of a dowdy, middle-aged governess played by a flawless and engaging Frances McDormand.

When Guinevere Pettigrew is fired from another job with no assurances for her future welfare, she intercepts an assignment from the employment agency and finds herself in a penthouse flat with a bubbly American girl in crisis. Amy Adams works the big eyes as the fluffy and effusive nightclub singer Delysia Lafosse, an aspiring actress whose lofty ambitions and loose morals have her caught between three men and the futures they offer: Phil (Tom Payne), an eager young theatre producer has the power to make her a leading lady; nightclub owner Nick (Mark Strong) can maintain her comfortable position in his penthouse and as the star performer at the Scarlet Peacock; while passionate piano player Michael (Lee Pace of "Pushing Daisies," and the obvious tops among the men), wants to marry Delysia and make music together in New York. Miss Pettigrew arrives in time to prevent the suitors' calls from overlapping and is immediately adopted by Delysia as her moral compass to save her from poor choices and help untangle her life. Under the guise of "social secretary" Miss Pettigrew quickly steps up to the games of love, pretense, and position in a realm far outside her standard.

McDormand and Adams are a wonderful odd couple, though Adams' spun candy performance can taste a mite too sweet at times. Shirley Henderson as devious fashion maven Edythe Dubarry and Ciaran Hinds as Joe, a lingerie designer and only peer of Miss Pettigrew, give a sturdy rounding to the supporting players and a dash of danger. The movie is spunky and fun, though weighty issues are at the core of the story. Hints of approaching war push the need for a Carpe Diem attitude, of being true to oneself amidst pretense, fear, and potential failure; having the courage to make choices and avoid missing out on the joys of life. Michaels claims it's a one-word answer: money or love.

Paul Englishby's musical compositions are a tremendous asset to the flurry of romance, makeovers, fashion, and party glitz, and maintain the high spirit of the film. "Miss Pettigrew" is such an enjoyable romp that it makes you sorry when the day comes to an end. But it's a charming way to spend a bit of one's own 24-hours.

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 92 minutes

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