Take well-seasoned actress Frances McDormand, add the up-and-coming charmer Amy Adams plus a delightful madcap story -- and you have Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.
It's 1939 London where life is anything but a fairy tale. With war fast approaching, air-raid sirens steal the pleasure from the high-class parties and hard times have fallen on many. Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) is feeling the privation full bore. She's lost her job as a governess due to several mishaps at her last jobs. Desperate, hungry and homeless, she resorts to her own devices when her employer refuses to send her out on any more jobs. Miss Pettigrew swipes a business card off the woman's desk and presents herself as a nanny to the upscale address on the card.
Because ingénue Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams) isn't looking for a nanny, she believes Miss Pettigrew is the social secretary she ordered from the agency. Miss Pettigrew quickly sizes up the situation when she realizes Delysia doesn't have any children. What she does have is a big problem -- three of them in fact. Their names are Nick (Mark Strong), Phil (Tom Payne) and Michael (Lee Pace). She professes to love all three of them, but dating them is like a three-ring circus. She needs Miss Pettigrew to help get one out of the house as the other enters.
Miss Pettigrew, so glad to have a place to hang her hat and food to eat, keeps mum about her real profession -- like her shabby clothes wouldn't give her away. Delysia, however, so giddily caught up in her carefree lifestyle, barely notices. But when she asks Miss Pettigrew to accompany her to a social function, she decides the woman needs a complete make-over before they go. Coiffured like never before in her life, Miss Pettigrew draws the attention of Joe (Ciaran Hinds), an underwear designer. She's not sure how to respond to his interest since he's the fiancé of Delysia's friend, Edythe Dubarry (Shirley Henderson).
Although they’ve only just met, by mid-afternoon Miss Pettigrew and Delysia have formed a close bond. Miss Pettigrew sees Delysia as a young woman chasing the wrong dreams. She points out that the part her new friend will do anything to get from West End producer Phil as well as the lavish lifestyle Nick can provide are only superficial. But Delysia can't see herself happy with a handsome accompanist, even if Michael is super nice.
The movie, adapted from a 1938 novel of the same name, comes fully to life through the wonderful performances of McDormand (North Country) and Adams (Enchanted). These actresses strike authenticity and amusement in their Cinderella and Fairy Godmother characters. McDormand never loses the veneer of the drown-trodden nanny, yet wonderment gleams in her eyes with each new improbable experience Delysia brings her way.
"This is a stylish and entertaining story about making choices and living with the consequences – and right away I could clearly see myself playing the title role," said McDormand.
Adams comes across like a Marilyn Monroe clone, so utterly gleeful she evokes smile after smile in every scene. "I am attracted to optimistic people and characters," said Adams. "Delysia is so vivacious and energetic and full of life, and she’s really resourceful – which is important, because she has a lot going on that she must juggle. If she had a modern motto, it would be ‘Fake it ‘til you make it.’"
In the supporting cast, Ciaran Hinds (There Will Be Blood) is especially engaging as a man who has finally had enough of superficial relationships.
The era, costumes, sets and music make Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day feel like a classic film of the 1930s or 40s in which comedy mixed with drama and the end came too quickly.
(Released by Focus Features and rated “PG-13” for some partial nudity and innuendo.)
Review also posted on www.reviewexpress.com .