I think it is fair to say that “Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day” is a film that grows on you.
Featuring Frances McDormand as the title character, it is, in a classic sense, both a comedy of manners and a portrait of a lonely lady, who, at one poignant and fitting moment, ruefully declares: “I am an expert in the lack of love.”
Homeless and bereft in pre-war Britain of 1938, Guinevere Pettigrew remains resourceful enough to maneuver her way into a London apartment inhabited by one Delysia Lafosse, an American played with tarty ebullience by Amy Adams. In no time at all, Miss Pettigrew is engaged as the social secretary for the flighty Miss Lafosse, who, when we meet her, is busy ridding the abode of a visitor (Michael Payne), who happens to be inhabiting the bed of its owner, a club impresario named Nick, played by Mark Strong.
’Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day’
DIRECTED BY Bharat Nalluri
SCREENPLAY BY David Magee and Simon Beaufoy
STARRING Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Ciaran Hinds, Mark Strong, Lee Pace, Tom Payne and Shirley Henderson
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
As Miss Pettigrew learns more about her employer, she becomes both her confidant and mentor. Finding herself in the middle of a fashion show in the posh Savoy Hotel, Miss Pettigrew holds her own. While there, she also meets a formidable future enemy (Shirley Henderson) and a man smitten with this plain “secretary” who presents herself without pretense. He is a guy named Joe, a prominent fashion designer, played by the always reliable Ciaran Hinds.
The more Miss Pettigrew knows about the situation, the more precarious it all seems. Alas, Delysia Lafosse is not the girl she pretends to be, but like Guinevere Pettigrew with the courtly name, she is at her best when she is herself. In her case, she is most at home with a piano player named Michael, who accompanies her on a sweet ballad; he also has more genuine feeling for her than the cads who claim to adore her. That is when Miss Pettigrew utters her self-effacing comment about expertise in “lack of love.” It is a wonderful moment.
As with the recent “The Other Boleyn Girl,” we once more have an American performer in the lead role as a Brit. This time, the results are happier. McDormand, who was pitch-perfect as the wily sheriff in “Fargo,” grows into her role, imbuing it with a sweet kind of wise nonchalance. Adams plays the flighty heroine with a ditzy brand of vulnerability. The two play off each other beautifully.
If “Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day” begins a bit tentatively, it matures and blossoms into a jaunty romance, as sweet as it is breezily enjoyable.