Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day **

Director: Bharat Nalluri
Cast: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams
Lee Pace, Ciarán Hinds, Shirley Henderson
Tom Payne, Mark Strong

"What a difference a day made and the difference is you" goes the 1934 standard that fits this film like a glove.
Set in 1940's London, with the kind of naivete reserved for fluff entertainment of the era, the plot follows governess Guinevere Pettigrew (McDormand) over the length of a day when she finds herself out of a job and is forced to steal another colleague's client: the extravagant, bubbly American cabaret singer Delysia Lafosse (Adams) who has to choose between a club owner (the seductively wicked Strong), a young theater producer (Payne) and a penniless jazz pianist (Pace).
For Miss Pettigrew, who is used to dealing with children, and has gone through extreme poverty, Delysia's misadventures come off as a a bit of a slap in the face.
While for Delysia, who must deal with fashion and boy trouble, Pettigrew's old world knowledge serves as an instant rock of wisdom.
But what the film lacks is a midpoint between these too obvious extremes, which bode well for children's fairy tales, but lack the spice needed to work as an adult farce.
McDormand, although reliable as usual, is completely miscast, in a role that merely uses her to deliver "inspiring" lines that would fit Mary Poppins better.
The director seems to ignore that McDormand is a brilliantly dark comedienne who would've had no trouble exploring what lies beyond the "too good to be true" facade of Pettigrew.
This leaves the entire film to be owned by the ever improving Adams, who is so good at playing airheaded, that you never doubt her sincerity in the part. Watching her combination of sensuality with innocence is a real pleasure and during a musical sequence, she even gives Delysia shades of real, heartwrenching humanity.
The plot leaves no room for surprise (other than what fabulous gown will Adams sport next) because it uses every single element to lead us to an expected resolution.
This film could've easily been served from what it shows the most and uses the less: its divine eye for period design, which is left on a second level as it tries hard to deliver cheap philosophy intended to remind us that every day must be lived as if it was our last.
What "Miss Pettigrew" doesn't know is that the feeling it tries so hard to express, was effortlessly conveyed in movies of the era (think "Bringing Up Baby" or "To Be Or Not to Be"), which for their cinematic qualities also made the audience's lives much better in the process.

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