Image courtesy of Focus Features http://www.filminfocus.com/article/the_song_in_their_hearts_
Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day is a charming way to pass an hour and a half if its pouring rain outside or dismally cold. Unfortunately the day I viewed this film it was neither.
Based on the 1939 novel by Winifred Watson which follows the whirlwind adventure of a rather plain, sour-on-life, and unbelievably poor woman who gets swept up in the socialite pre-WWII glittering 1930s, the film stars Frances McDormand as the title role of Guinevere Pettigrew and an overly giddy Amy Adams as Delysia Lafosse, the would-be man-eating starlet that comes to depend on Miss Pettigrew to clean up her messes.
Delysia is presented as a free-spirited woman who dangles men on the end of a string in order to get ahead in life - somewhat shocking stuff to be writing about in the 1930s. In fact, Miss Pettigrew quickly discovers the apartment Delysia is residing in doesn't even belong to her, but rather a strong-nosed man by the name of Nick Calderelli (Mark Strong) who allows her to sing in a club that he owns. Then there's the heart-of-gold pianist Michael Pardue (Lee Pace) who wants nothing more but for Delysia to realize he is the one for her and spend the rest of his life accompanying her on the keyboard. Finally, there's the young and silly Phil Goldman (Tom Payne) who it seems will cast whatever girl will give him the best sex in the lead role of his new West End play. All of these men, sad to say, are rather boring.
McDormand does an admirable job as playing the Ugly Duckling role while maintaining her rigid personality and morals - and it is indeed pleasant to see her be rewarded for being simply herself, just in better clothes. Adams, however, seems to be on giddy autopilot throughout the film, giving little to no variety from her virginal turn as the wide-eyed innocent in Disney's Enchanted. It's hard for me to even buy that her character has slept with all these men, like Adams is trying to apologize for Delysia's loose behavior by amping up the heart of gold aspect to her personality. She bounces through the honey-colored lens of the camera, but as a viewer I wasn't convinced she was having all the fun that she seemed to be having. A little more devil in the details would have spiced up her vanilla performance quite a bit.
However, the budding late-stage romance that forms between Pettigrew and Joe Blomfield (Ciarán Hinds) could be the only real thing that escapes from this overpuffed cream pie of a film. A quiet gentleman who just happens to run one of the most successful lingerie companies in England, his slow smile and gently persisting courtship of Pettigrew despite his engagement to the much younger and delightfully poisonous Edith (Shirley Henderson) make him loveable and endearing. I found myself unexpectedly falling for him in much the same way Pettigrew does.
The whole film could have easily been scaled down to a stage play. Most of the action takes place in Nick's apartment, and while there are overtones to the impending World War about to take place, all darkness is quickly brushed aside in the glitter of high society. The film goes down with the ease of a fine glass of white wine, but leaves an eager mind on an empty stomach.