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Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day intends to unspool like a popped bottle of champagne— fizzy, sparkly and full of air. A fast-paced romp through one day in the life of American starlet Delysia Lafosse, the movie quickly dispatches with two bad suitors and one good one, a wielded gun, a brief elevator rendezvous, and a preliminary blitz on London from the Nazis, rising in power in this summer of 1939. You may pity Miss Pettigrew for only getting one day to live, but it sure is a busy one.
The shame of the movie is that all this activity isn’t enough to keep the whole soufflé afloat. Despite being stuffed to the gills with an appealing cast, lovely costumes and delectable scenery, Miss Pettigrew’s airy delights get bogged down in Bharat Nalluri’s attempts to bring some levity to the whole situation. Remember how the love story in Casablanca was intensity by the approaching war? Miss Pettigrew aims for the same effect, but doesn’t pull off the necessary deft balance. The result is completely enjoyable and largely fun, but almost instantly forgettable.
We meet Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) as she is being fired from yet another governess job; she’s too strict, too stubborn, and—gasp!—not nearly pretty enough. Her boss at the agency refuses to give her another position, so Miss Pettigrew improvises, stealing the business card of one Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams). When Miss Pettigrew arrives at Delysia’s apartment the next morning, the aspiring actress is already in a frenzy. Her lover Phil (Tom Payne) won’t get out of bed, but the man who owns the apartment, her other lover Nick (Mark Strong) is on his way home from a business trip. Miss Pettigrew steps in without missing a beat, and before she even has a chance to introduce herself she’s well wrapped up within Delysia’s frantic world.
Turns out Delysia is trying to achieve her professional goals through three love interests: Slick, older Nick owns the nightclub that employs her as a singer, while Phil is the twerpy producer of a West End play that may have a lead role for her. Then there’s Michael (Lee Pace), her piano player, who has loved her for years and has proposed to her several times. Just hazard a guess at who might turn out to be the right man.
Miss Pettigrew, for her part, repeatedly bumps into famous lingerie designer Joe (Ciarán Hinds), who is instantly besotted despite being engaged to Delysia’s frenemy, Edythe (Shirley Henderson). Edythe suspects that Miss Pettigrew is not the experienced “social secretary” she claims to be, and aims to undermine her in ways that are more mean-spirited than effective.
The predictability isn’t really the problem with Miss Pettigrew; it’s the lack of effort put into the twists and turns on the way to the inevitable kiss at the end. Hinds is unbelievably dashing as the worldly Joe, and Pace is scruffily, devilishly handsome as sad-sack Michael, but neither character takes shape as more than a bland white knight to save the heroines. It’s a shame, too, since Adams and McDormand put so much energy into their roles you almost want them to succeed without those pesky, boring men. The manic energy and dazzling beauty of Miss Pettigrew slowly fade as you realize, yes, this is all there is to the story, and yes, everyone is going to walk into the sunset with pretty much no effort.
A movie that counts Frances McDormand and Ciarán Hinds as its marquee names isn’t exactly going to get a blockbuster audience, but Miss Pettigrew needs to be a little more substantial to snag the upscale female audience it needs. A fun rental for a slumber party, but not enough escapism or believable drama to be worth the trek to the multiplex.