Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day Review

I was surprised to learn that “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” was based on Winifred Watson’s novel. That’s because it feels so much like a play. It wears all the charms of a play or musical with a high-society cast of people involved in music or theatre and whimsical characters bearing distinctive traits. Even our titular character experiences a 24-hour Cinderella-style transformation using the classic rags-to-riches archetype so often found on the stage.

Near-farcical at times, “Miss Pettigrew” is a fun romance, an escapist period love story that takes place at the doorstep of World War II, an ever-present reminder that life isn’t always as magical as the story makes it out to be. Although it would thrive more on the stage, colorful performances from two versatile actresses — one a veteran and the other one of film’s biggest up-and-comers — keep the attitude fun and the story from feeling stale.

Frances McDormand stars as Miss Pettigrew, a poor woman working as a maid who is fired and told by the agency that sends her out that she can’t be trusted anymore. Facing complete poverty, she steals a job as a social assistant to an aspiring American actress (Amy Adams) named Delysia LaFosse, an un-tamable young woman juggling three men in her life: one who gives her all the money she has, one who could put her in a starring role and one who of course who loves her for who she is.

Adams plays Delysia with delightful camp, clearly having so much fun pretending to care and be a charming little ray of sunshine despite her obvious attempts to manipulate others. Miss Pettigrew is the woman that helps her pull it off and for this she gets her own little makeover and the chance to see life with different eyes. McDormand subtly makes her moves as the script calls for her to be surprisingly and comically assertive in situations despite her reserved manner. She’s quite literally a peach though she’d much rather eat one given she doesn’t eat but scraps on a regular basis. Director Bharat Nalluri doesn’t let us lose sight of this, but with a 24-hour film, it’s hard to see Miss Pettigrew as more than a comical character portrait.

The romantic comedy farce aspect meets the status quo quite pleasantly. “Miss Pettigrew” does not reach for a new bag of tricks; the only things fresh about it are these performances along with a little British flair. It’s much more enjoyable to watch Delysia and Miss Pettigrew than it is to actually follow what happens to them in the film.

“Miss Pettigrew” offers some witty, classic ’30s romantic escapism and might even prompt you to buy some theatre tickets.

3.5/5 Stars

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Directed by Bharat Nalluri
Written by David Magee and Simon Beaufoy, Winifred Watson (novel)
Starring: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Mark Strong


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