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Miss Pettigrew

Charming film combines witty writing with great performances.

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Miss Pettigrew is not having a good day. For that matter, she hasn’t had a good day, week or month for as long as she can remember. Recently fired from a job as governess, another in a long line of failures, she is facing the stern proprietor of an employment agency where she has a reputation as “the governess of last resort.”

This is the sad plight of the frumpy, frizzy-haired eccentric at the center of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, an entirely charming film based on a 1938 novel by Winifred Watson, an author known for writing about women who flout convention. As the story unfolds, it will fill you with smiles, thanks to the smart, witty writing and great performances all around — especially Frances McDormand, who’s in fine form in the title role.

While exiting the employment agency, Miss Pettigrew swipes a calling card for Delysia Lafosse (a wonderfully dizzy Amy Adams), a nightclub singer in search of a social secretary. With no other immediate options, Pettigrew makes a quick decision to seize the day and step into a new career — one she finds herself totally unprepared for but uncannily good at.

Crisis is an ongoing theme in the soap opera that is Delysia’s life. Intent on becoming a West End star, she is wooing the young son of a theater producer while living in a posh penthouse with Nick (Mark Strong), the slick owner of the Scarlet Peacock, the nightclub where she sings.

When Miss Pettigrew happens to walk into the penthouse, she finds herself flung into the chaotic aftermath of Delysia’s seduction. With Nick’s arrival imminent and the house in turmoil, she swiftly sets things right, to Delysia’s delight.

The odd-couple friendship grows from there into a laugh-filled romp unfolding over one day as scatterbrained Delysia makes the high-society rounds with Miss Pettigrew in tow. At a lingerie fashion show, Miss Pettigrew bumps into Joe (Ciaran Hinds), a designer of luscious lingerie, who is instantly interested in this woman so out of her element. But Joe is engaged to the venomous fashionista Edythe (Shirley Henderson), who, to complicate matters, takes Miss Pettigrew into her confidence.

Later, after a much-needed makeover, Miss Pettigrew follows Delysia to the Scarlet Peacock, where piano player Michael (Lee Pace of Pushing Daisies), in love with Delysia, makes one last attempt to win her over. Suffice it to say chaos ensues and everything works out just fine at the end of Miss Pettigrew’s new day.

The film, a delightful confection, marks a surprising change for Indian-born director Bharat Nalluri, whose previous projects include The Crow III and many TV shows, including Tsunami: The Aftermath and Life on Mars. He proves to have a fine grasp of comedy, as well as insights into adapting older material for a modern audience.

Adams is once again goofy and alluring in a role she was born to play. It’s not unlike her role in Enchanted, only transported to a different place and time. A fine comedian, she puts just the right touch on Delysia’s madcap ways.

The always surprising McDormand has made a career out of choosing quirky roles in independent films that fit her talents perfectly. It seems there’s not a role the versatile actress can’t make interesting.

At one point, Miss Pettigrew chastises Delysia that she “is playing at love, but love is not a game.” McDormand delivers the line with cautious wisdom and then sets out to help Delysia straighten matters out.

But she’s also not averse to a little romance for herself. And when Miss Pettigrew’s face subtly begins to light up with the prospect of love, we know all will soon be right in her little corner of the world.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day


Stars: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams and Lee Pace

Director: Bharat Nalluri

Rating: PG-13 for some partial nudity and innuendo

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