In many ways, Frances McDormand and Amy Adams are on far end of the spectrums when it comes to the way they act and the characters they play. McDormand is best known for playing scruffy, frizzy and unglamorous roles, while Adams tends to play characters with princess syndrome. So, when the two team up in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, they come off as one of the oddest, yet strangely enjoyable, on-screen couplings in recent memory.
McDormand plays the title character, a nanny who has found her work run dry due to her unagreeable and rather brusk mannerisms. When she makes the unethical choice to lie to get her next job, however, she unknowingly walks into the perfect situation. Suddenly, she becomes the social secretary - the last thing anyone would have ever expected of her - to a rising starlet named Delysia Lafosse (Adams), a beautiful, high-pitched and seemingly shallow singer on the verge of making her big break. The young woman has come to use her looks to her advantage, but her approach has dug herself into a hole, as she is in bed - literally and figuratively - with three different men, only one of whom she really loves. Who knew that it would take someone with such a straight arrow approach as Miss Pettigrew to save the day?
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is not a classic by any means, but it is an enjoyable throwback to films from the 1930's and 40's where dialogue and character interaction outweigh plot and, at times, character sentiment. Set in modern day, it would be challenging for Adams to pull off playing a woman who is sleeping or even entertaining three different men, but in the right time and with the right mannerisms, it makes for an oddly amusing backbone for a story. Miss Pettigrew, directed by Bharat Nalluri and written by David Magee and Simon Beaufoy, relies heavily on witty dialogue and the juggling of characters, and, for the most part, pulls it off.
Both McDormand and Adams are great in their respective roles. McDormand has obviously played tougher, more complicated characters - Guinevere Pettigrew is a walk in the park compared to what we have come to expect of her - but this movie shows that she is indeed one of the most versatile actresses working today. She can handle serious drama, disturbing crime or light, fluffy comedy equally well. As for Adams, she is one of the actresses who is going to continue to have to prove her worth despite turning in excellent performances time and time again and having an Oscar nomination to show for it. She truly is a gifted actress, but with her looks and her willingness to do a wide range of characters, some of whom seem only spritely on the surface, people may take her for granted as just another pretty face. While her performance isn't award-winning here, she is both limited and embraced by her character, which is multi-layered despite coming off as completely ditzy.
Miss Pettigrew is not a laugh-out-loud kind of film, but it is an entertaining one, and Nalluri, with his first truly mainstream film, keeps things going at the perfect pace. The movie is consistently light on its feet, and just when it seems like Miss Pettigrew has accomplished her task, three new problems arise for her to deal with. Eventually, the movie unfolds into a juggling act of volatile situations (volatile for the time period, that is) - with a bomb raid thrown in for good measure - and the movie becomes truly satisfying.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day isn't for everyone, but the movie is funny, charming and entertaining. Good performances and quality writing make this film one of the hidden gems of the year.
Review #2 (B)
Review by Robert Bell Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Dayis a beautifully photographed throwback to films of the 40's. Great care is taken to frame each shot with exquisite art direction, wonderful costumes, and boisterous performances. Regrettably, the same care wasn't taken in presenting a consistent tone, or direction that goes anywhere beyond the surface.
Frances McDormand stars as Guinevere Pettigrew, a recently unemployed governess desperately looking for work in 1939 London. Constantly being turned down by the employment agency, Miss Pettigrew decides to intercept a job offer as a "social secretary" for flighty young actress Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams).
Miss Pettigrew is immediately swept up in the responsibilities of the role helping Delysia sort out her relationships with three suitors; a poor pianist, Michael (Lee Pace), an intimidating nightclub owner, Nick (Mark Strong), and the son of a successful theatre producer, Phil (Tom Payne). She also finds herself in a romantic triangle of her own involving Joe, a successful fashion designer, (Ciaran Hinds) and Edythe (Shirley Henderson), his power hungry fiancée.
Over the next 24 hours Miss Pettigrew and Delysia will empower and learn about each other while finding out where their true love and destinies lie.
Pettigrew is a beautifully photographed film with a wonderful overall aesthetic sense. The careful detail to set design, costumes, hairstyles, and mannerisms make the film feel like it was made in 1939. Director Bharat Nalluri is clearly a fan of classic films, and ensures that every shot looks authentic for its time. There are shots in this film that are jaw dropping in their beauty.
Unfortunately, it appears that Nalluri attempted to take all of the shots from his favourite classical films and cram them into this one regardless of pesky things like cohesion and pacing. The first half hour of this film moves wonderfully, running along like a fast talking Howard Hawks film (aside from the nudity). However, once the film attempts to add some deeper significance it stumbles, never really regaining its footing. There are simply too many elements and tones are bouncing around for the viewer to ever fully grasp one, leaving the audience visually satisfied, but feeling emotionally robbed.
Screenwriters David Magee (Finding Neverland) and Simon Beaufoy (Blow Dry, The Full Monty) write some excellent dialogue here. Each character is given a vocabulary suiting the social and moral standing. This, like the direction, is at its best in the initial half hour of the film. There are some very witty exchanges between the various classes of people. However, the clever dialogue gives way to conventional storytelling methods, and formulaic conventions that don't always follow the natural progression of each character. The script is strong, but meanders as it reaches its conclusion.
Fortunately, the performances in this film are excellent for the most part. Frances McDormand plays her character with dedication, and depth beyond what was on the page. She overacts when appropriate for the film (it is intended to be a throwback), but always grounds herself helping to connect her to a modern audience. Amy Adams is charmingly over-the-top as a fledgling actress determined for success. She brings life to every scene that she is in, and alone makes the film more entertaining. The secondary performances are uniformly decent (aside from Tom Payne who never really fits in), but the standout supporting role comes from Shirley Henderson as a woman willing to sacrifice anything for riches. She humanizes a relatively villainous role to a point where you almost want to root for her.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is cute and charming, but fumbles when it reaches to be more than that. Fine performances and exceptional art direction make the film worth watching, but the inconsistent direction leaves something to be desired.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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