A frothy mixture of sex-farce and Cinderella story, “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” is a throwback to old Hollywood films. It’s a light-hearted story, impressively so considering the threats of World War II, air raid sirens, depression and hunger hanging so blatantly over its head. Despite these downers, “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” maintains its giddiness due to the strengths of its two leading women.
Amy Adams (“Enchanted”) continues her winning streak as Delysia Lafosse. Though Ms. Lafosse may be a social-climber willing to trade her body for an apartment and a leading role in the West End, Adams never loses her “heart of gold,” infusing Delysia with a quick wit, biting tongue and a love of life that leaves the audience hoping for the best for her. That best comes in the form of Frances McDormand’s (“Fargo”) Guinevere Pettigrew.
Miss Pettigrew, after again being fired from a governess job, shows up at Delysia’s apartment thinking she has found another job caring for children. Instead, she becomes Delysia’s “social secretary.” Once transformed from matron to potential player, she must balance Delysia’s hectic social life of parties, three rival suitors and more deviance than Guinevere feels ought to occur. Guinevere seizes the day, as the title suggests, and McDormand plays her part to the hilt, making Guinevere the moral backbone to Adam’s ever-bending Delysia.
Guinevere’s main role is to fend off the amorous devotion of the three men in Delysia’s life. While two offer her something she wants – a lead role, a place to stay – only Michael (the adorable Lee Pace, TV’s “Pushing Daisies”) can offer her something she needs: true love. He would give her that and more, if only she would sail away to New York with him. But Delysia, torn between her ambitions and love, needs Guinevere to push her in the right direction. Guinevere is hesitant at first, especially about the idea of playing with hearts, but when she meets Joe (Ciáran Hinds, “Munich”) she begins to warm up to the idea.
The two women are focal contrasts in a movie filled with stark differences. The life of Delysia’s penthouse is a far cry from the soup lines Guinevere frequents. The mad world of the nightclub that Delysia sings at can’t be bothered with air raids, refusing to shut down when the sirens go off. When planes fly across the London skies, there is no fear, only an exclamation of “weren’t they magnificent?” These disparities are prettied up for the big screen, and only collide during the opening scenes and in Guinevere’s reactions to the sight of food. It’s scary to think how quickly people can forget the real world and the destruction of war when they’re too involved in themselves.
Guinevere can’t forget, though, which is why it’s best that the timeline for the movie is just 24 hours. Though Guinevere cares for Delysia and as much as she wants to see her go off into the sunset with the right man for the right reasons, she would have soon tired of Delysia’s unsubstantial life. The two women make a lasting impression on each other, and the film proves that sometimes the best impressions are made in the shortest amount of time.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Rating:2 out of 5 stars