Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day: The Art of Elegant Comedy

At one point during this movie, and I swear this is true, my giant fella squeezed my knee and looked over at me with what I promise were misty eyes.

miss.jpgDarlings. I write this to you from my silken boudoir, perched on a heap of dressing gowns, money, and servants. Yes, that is correct. I have abandoned my boring, polyester world for a life within a screwball comedy from the 1930s. And who can blame me? It’s lavish, it’s droll, men are always wearing suits and offering you champagne, live brass bands play in every corner, and someone like Britney Spears would have been escorted out of the public eye long ago. And thanks to Bharat Nalluri, director of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (the latest step in Amy Adams‘s ploy to charm us all so much that we just start spontaneously mailing checks), the fast-paced, irreverent, yet still somehow clean fun of the films of yore is newly resurrected in glorious color.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day begins very early on what will become a life-changing day for Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand ), Delysia Lafosse (Adams), and just about everybody they come across. Oh, lessons are learned, facades are destroyed, inhibitions are thrown haphazardly to the curb, that sort of thing. The plot itself isn’t really anything remarkable. No, no, this is a film that gets by purely on writing, performances, costumes, and directing. That’s entertainment! In fact, the only parts of the film that don’t slip seamlessly into the lush mood are the parts into which Nalluri tries to slip in some middle-aged, wholesome contrast (Miss Pettigrew has a habit of taking a breather when things get too heady, usually to think about war and loss and drab clothing or something). But even those moments are easily forgiven, thanks to McDormand’s effortless portrayal of a dowdy old maid fallen accidentally into the lap of luxury, much to our delight.

Amy Adams, of course, doesn’t shock anyone by pulling off yet another giggly, wide-eyed creature who, at key moments, allows her smile to falter just perceptibly to reveal The Person Behind the Glee. I don’t mean to be a cynic. I love her just as much as anyone else does, and I guess it is kind of surprising to see Princess What’s-Her-Name (Entendre? Chantilly? Bellisima?) manipulating several dudes using her (gasp) sexuality. All that sickening dependence on men (for few of them really care much about her) would get my Bryn Mawr up if the sound advice that steers her course didn’t come from another, stronger woman.*

There are probably a hundred more things to say about silks and dresses and Shirley Henderson, but it would be difficult to do so without spoiling everything for you. Plus my old-fashioned phone is ringing in its cradle. It’s probably my best galpal ringing to discuss girdles and the Depression. I’ll catch you all at Club Ipanema later on.

*Although, to be fair, Miss Pettigrew herself is eventually reliant on a man’s charity, but since she is instrumental in activating his common sense as well, and since everybody’s so adorable, and since, well, it’s the Thirties, I’m prepared to forgive.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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