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March 7, 2008 E-mail story   Print   Most E-Mailed


'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day'

Frances McDormand and Amy Adams charm in the light, fun romantic fantasy.

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By Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

It's hard not to like a movie in which Frances McDormand spends half her screen time staring longingly at leftover scraps of bread and half-eaten apples, as she does in the charmingly featherweight "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day." Nobody is as charmingly rueful, and it's rare to see her brand of poignant comedy anymore.

In the film, set in London in the days leading up to World War II, McDormand plays Guinevere Pettigrew, a down-on-her-luck governess who has just been fired from her last job for being too intolerant of her employers' lax morals. Desperate for a job and blacklisted from her employment agency, she inserts herself into the temporary residence of Miss Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams), an American cabaret singer and aspiring actress who has put in a request for a social secretary.

The flighty Delysia is too busy juggling three boyfriends to notice that the woman who is supposed to take charge of her social engagements lands on her doorstep with a bewildered, hangdog expression and nothing but the dingy clothes on her back. But when Miss Pettigrew helps her gracefully avoid a potentially embarrassing scrape, Delysia quickly pegs her as indispensable.

Then again, it's possible that Delysia knows another scrappy soul in need of assistance when she sees one. Adams is amazingly adept at playing smart playing dumb -- there's more to her flaky actress than meets the eye. Opposites yet kindred spirits, Adams and McDormand make a great pair as a couple of women living by their wits during a particularly hysterical moment in history.

Based on a 1938 novel by Winifred Watson and adapted by David Magee ("Finding Neverland") and Simon Beaufoy ("The Full Monty"), the movie transpires over the course of a single day, with most of the action centering on Delysia's decision to accept or reject a marriage proposal from the only one of her lovers who actually loves her: Michael (Lee Pace), a poor pianist.

Bharat Nalluri directs with a light touch and a great eye for costumes and sets, which are gorgeous enough to make up for any contrivances in the plot. It's pure romantic fantasy, and you won't believe it for a minute. But it's fun to watch Miss Pettigrew and Miss Lafosse live for a couple of hours.

"Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day." MPAA rating: PG-13 for some partial nudity and innuendo. Running time:

1 hour, 32 minutes. In limited release.


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