With an ELLE cover and a hit gown and spirited performance at the Oscars this year, there is no doubt that Amy Adams is currently America's Titian Sweetheart. She's everywhere! And, in addition to her performance on SNL tomorrow, the Academy Award-nominee is appearing in the newly-released Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, a period comedy starring Oscar-winner Frances McDormand as a mousy ex-governess who somehow ends up being the "social secretary" to Adams' expat actress character for one full day. Unfortunately for Adams, however, a few critics feel the film falls flat (perhaps because of auteur Bharat Nalluri's "
womanlike [Sorry guys, it's Friday. -Ed.] workmanlike direction"?). We take a look at the mixed reviews after the jump.
The film, adapted by David Magee and Simon Beaufoy from a newly rediscovered 1939 novel by Winifred Watson, comes at you in a whirlwind of comic coincidences, sentimental yearnings, amorous betrayals and rapid costume changes. The Focus Features release, an enjoyable as it is forgettable, should find enthusiasm among older audiences in specialized venues — those who can either remember 1939 or at least imagine it. A clutch of musical standards from that era by Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer and Yip Harburg wrap the package in a nostalgic glow.
Nalluri has trouble with pacing in "Miss Pettigrew," which should snap, crackle and pop with "Dinner at Eight" alacrity. But the film's flaws are nothing compared with the pleasures it offers, chiefly in its unapologetic pursuit of old-fashioned sweetness and romance. Coming off a charming triumph in "Enchanted," Adams is a champagne cocktail in a peignoir, but it's McDormand who sashays away with the movie, as a woman who seems to ripen and bloom in real time.
McDormand's performance slowly builds a solid integrity, and contrasts well with Adams' more flamboyant turn, which initially accentuates Delysia's constant role playing but eventually flowers into a gratifyingly full-fledged portrayal of a woman with a past she wishes to escape. Hinds puts real feeling into his work as a self-made gentleman who instantly recognizes Guinevere's fine human qualities.
The film flits from apartment to nightclub to fashion show and then back to the apartment, like a play. It's all highly, even shrilly theatrical. Yet once the performers take it down a notch and the workmanlike direction by Bharat Nalluri stays out of the way, "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" makes you forget that the roles played by McDormand and Adams—both of whom have done wonderful things in other movies—probably could've been handled with more finesse by, oh, several dozen other performers, English or American.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a trifle of a movie confection, sweet and gummy as a jelly bean—and 10 minutes later, just as forgettable. Nothing really registers here. The casting is absurdly miscalculated. Even the costumes are wrong. It's supposed to be set in 1939 London, on the eve of the blitz, but the party clothes are straight out of the Roaring Twenties, and Frances McDormand, in the title role, is by no stretch of the imagination another Thoroughly Modern Millie. Surrounded by so much ugliness and violence, a film this giddy should be more of a relief, but Miss Pettigrew proves that light as a bubble is not always a guaranteed antidote to tedium.
There are so many movies jockeying for our attention these days that a slender pleasure like Bharat Nalluri's drawing-room comedy "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" could all too easily slip between the sofa cushions. The picture falls far short of perfection: It doesn't pop and sparkle as much as it needs to. Nalluri — who has worked mostly in television — doesn't have as much control over the material as he might: This story, set between the two world wars, of an unemployed governess who changes several lives (one of them her own) in the course of a single day is joyously exaggerated and exuberant, but sometimes it's a little too heavy on its feet. The jokes and gags hit too squarely; the movie conspicuously lacks a light touch.
Adams is the sole reason to bother with this flimsy time-passer—which perpetually appears to be funnier than it actually is—but not an inconsiderable one, given how many scenes are offered up for her to steal. But in trying to recapture the spirit of classic '30s screwball comedies, the film too often mistakes manic energy for wit, and it ends on a note of gloppy sentimentality that wouldn't have held water in Old Hollywood.