© 2008 Ray Wong
It's rare to see an audaciously old-fasioned screwball comedy these days. Based on Winifred Watson's 1938 novel, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a delightful, cozy film that reminds us of the golden age of Grant, Garbo, and Hepburn.
Miss Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) has just been unjustly dismissed from her job as a governess. Penniless and with no place to go, Miss Pettigrew is desperate for a job and a meal. She takes a chance and masquerades as a social secretary for an American actress, Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams). Little does she know it's going to be one heck of a day for her.
It turns out that Delysia, a glamorous social butterfly, is caught in whirlwind relationships with three different men: Nick (Mark Strong) who owns the nightclub she performs in and provides her for the gorgeous flat and extravagant lifestyle; Phil (Tom Payne) who is a young, handsome producer who may give Delysia her first starring role on the West End stage; and Michael (Lee Pace), a passionate pianist who adores Delysia despite all her flaws. Underneath Delysia's outer shell of glamor lies a fragile, frightened girl who can't decide how she should live her life. As different as Delysia and Pettigrew are, they are also very much alike, and they take to each other immediately.
Through a series of farcical events, Miss Pettigrew works her magic and averts plenty of disasters for Delysia, who in turn introduces Miss Pettigrew to her busy social world. She meets a conniving fashion designer Edyth Dubarry (Shirley Henderson) and her fiance, well-known designer Joe (Ciarán Hinds). Delysia convinces Edyth to make over Miss Pettigrew, but Edyth knows Pettigrew's secret. Driven by her desires to stay employed but also to help Delysia straighten up, Miss Pettigrew finds herself all caught up in her own dilemmas as well.
The entire cast, headlined by Frances McDormand (Friends with Money) and Amy Adams (Enchanted), are delightful. McDormand is deliciously dowdy but full of depth as the insightful but downtrodden governess. She has a great rapport with Amy Adams (Enchanted), who is quickly becoming the IT girl in Hollywood. Like Giselle in Enchanted, her Delysia is naive, clueless, and vulnerable, yet effervescent and darn endearing. The two actresses can't be more different in looks and styles, but they blend together perfectly like tea and honey.
The men in this handsomely made film are just as dashing. Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies) is remarkably affecting as Delysia's valiant soulmate. His puppy eyes are so expressive of his feelings for her. Tom Payne (Waterloo Road) is wickedly charming as the silly high-society playboy who has a weakness for beautiful starlets. Mark Strong (Stardust) is deviously debonair as Delysia's boss and lover, and Ciarán Hinds (There Will Be Blood) is all old-time sincerity as the fashion tycoon who has his eyes on Miss Pettigrew. Finally, Shirley Henderson (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) steals every scene she's in as conniving Edyth.
David Magee (Finding Neverland) and Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) have done a great job adapting Watson's novel. The dialogue is fast and witty, and the characters are fully drawn despite their over-the-top cheekiness. The plot unfolds with a nice pace and follows a tight three-act structure. Granted, it's also built upon a few implausible coincidences but over all, it's believable, funny (but in a classy way), cute, relevant, and sweet.
Under director Bharat Nalluri's (The Crow: Salvation) skillful hands, the production is scrumptious, evoking the look and feel of screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s. The set and costume designs are impeccable and classy. The acting is across-the-board top-notch. The music, heavy on Big Band, is both fitting and a wonderful asset to the film. There's one scene in which Amy Adams and Lee Pace sing (yes, they can sing) to each other that is possibly one of the best on-screen love songs of all times.
With the actors' incredible timing, chemistry and charms, as well as the plot's brisk pace and witty dialogue, the film is a fine throwback to Hollywood's golden past, a delectable vintage champagne that is perfect for any day.
Stars: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Lee Pace, Tom Payne, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Shirley Henderson
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Writers: David Magee, Simon Beaufoy (based on Winifred Watson's novel)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some partial nudity and innuendo
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.8 out of 10