Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day has a lot going for it. An appealing cast headed by Oscar winner Frances McDormand and nominee Amy Adams. Beautiful sets, costumes and an unerring eye for the beauty of prewar WWII England. Unfortunately those virtues are wasted on a story that can’t make up its mind whether it is a farce, a romance or a poignant study of the effects of age in difficult times. As a result it is all those things, but is less than the sum of its parts.
Calling itself a “fairy tale for adults” we join Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day just as the titular character, Miss Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), is being fired from yet another job as nanny. She’s a difficult employee who isn’t good with kids, but babysitting is the only job she can get in pre-war London. If only she could hang on to the job long enough to collect a paycheck she’d be in better shape. Destitute, she wrangles her way into the job of “social secretary” for an air headed starlet named Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams). Delysia isn’t above using her feminine charms to further her career, and when a quick thinking Miss Pettigrew sorts out an inconvenient bottleneck of suitors at Delysia’s door she takes the dowdy nanny on a wild twenty four hour ride in which relationships will form and fall apart, war will start and an era comes to an end.
It’s a fanciful story, well acted—although the leading men are simply bland white knight types and little more—and steadily directed but its unwillingness to settle on a style, whether it is manic comedy or poignant character study. In the end it is neither.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day does have its charms. McDormand has corner on these kind of sad sack frumpy characters and she manages to pull the best out of Miss Pettigrew. Adams, the new Hollywood “it” girl, is all wide eyed effervescence in a performance that, thankfully, deepens as the film enters it final moments.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is an almost instantly forgettable confection—fun for a fleeting moment—but ultimately is a film whose ambitions exceeded its reach.