Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss Pettigrew, plain and tall -- 2.5 stars

Directed by Bharat Nalluri. March 2008, UK/USA. Rated PG-13: 92 min.

(Originally published in buzz magazine on 4/6/2008)

Her light brown hair squiggles and frizzes like loose twigs in a bird’s nest. Her face, like a centuries-old marble bust, bears the blemishes of age but remains as firm as her resolution. Her shabby clothes and Spartan outlook mark her more as a peasant than a member of late 1930s British high society. And yet, after being booted to the street from her job as a nanny and facing rejection from her career counselor, Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) finds herself desperate enough to steal the business card of one Delysia Lafosse from the employment office. This results in a chain of events that lands her in the world of show biz.

Miss Pettigrew soon arrives at the posh flat of Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams), an American night club singer trying to break into a stage acting career in London. Guinevere assumes she has snuck her way into a new nanny position when Delysia asks that she wake up a boy in the upstairs bedroom. She flings open the thick curtains and tosses his sheets over only to discover that the sleepyhead isn’t a lazy child late for school but a grown man snoozing in the buff. A play producer, no less. And Delysia needs him out of the apartment – pronto – because her other boyfriend, the owner of the nightclub where she performs, is on his way home. As if love triangles weren’t complicated enough, Delysia and Guinevere return after getting the latter a much-needed makeover and see that Miss Lafosse’s third boyfriend – also her piano accompanist – has broken in. He offers her an ultimatum: marry him or they’re through. Evidently, Delysia needs Miss Pettigrew’s help and advice in dealing with the men in her life just as much as Miss Pettigrew needs room and board.

Despite its complex web of relationships, the film becomes easy to understand once all the major players are introduced. In fact, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day may seem almost too simplistic and predictable. I would argue, however, that Amy Adams’ over-the-top ditsy demeanor and Frances McDormand’s elegant frankness are charming enough to make seeing this movie worthwhile.