September 14, 2008 -- “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” is a winning romantic comedy set in London just before World War II. Frances McDormand (“North Country”) stars as Miss Guinevere Pettigrew, a straight-as-an-arrow minister's daughter whose common sense and strict morality serve as perfect foils for the loose morals and backstabbing ways she finds in the world of high society. Also starring is Amy Adams of “Charlie Wilson's War,” who plays Delysia Lafosse, a flighty but ambitious singer-actress who is trying to get to the top of the show business heap on her back. Delysia wants to do the right thing, but lacks will power. In Miss Pettigrew, Delysia sees a chance to do better. Miss Pettigrew seems to help Delysia develop the will power to be a better person.
The spectre of impending war hangs heavily in the background of this romantic comedy, giving it a bit more heft. At one point, after an air raid test which scares everyone in a night club, Miss Pettigrew tells Delysia pointedly that life is too short to defer love to some later time. Love doesn't always arrive at a convenient time, she notes at another point of the story. Miss Pettigrew knows this all too well, having lost her own love in the “War to End all Wars,” World War I. The movie opens with Miss Pettigrew penniless, having just lost her job as a governess. Hungry and homeless, she desperately misrepresents herself to Delysia, telling her that she was assigned to her by an employment agency. She becomes Delysia's personal secretary and conscience. Miss Pettigrew advises Delysia to marry the man who loves her instead of bedding the man who can advance her career. The man who loves her, a penniless piano player, Michael (played by Lee Pace of the “Pushing Daisies” TV series), is fed up with Delysia's act. He gives her an ultimatum, be on the boat to America with him tomorrow or he is leaving her.
Miss Pettigrew has problems of her own. She is attracted to a clothing designer, Joe (Ciarán Hinds of “There Will Be Blood”) who is also desired by the powerful fashion maven Edythe (Shirley Henderson of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”). Miss Pettigrew's is threatened with ruin if she interferes with Edythe's plans. Miss Pettigrew has to decide whether or not to help Edythe and whether or not to help Delysia advance her career. Somehow she manages to navigate this minefield with some dignity. This is an effective costume romantic comedy of manners. The setting gives it an old fashioned look, but the story also has modern elements. Frances McDormand and Amy Adams provide the star power that keeps this movie humming. This film rates a B.
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