Amy Adams is one of the most likable and talented actresses working today. She has also been rather ubiquitous lately, appearing in everything from “Enchanted” to “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
In “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day,” Adams plays the wonderfully-named Delysia Lafosse, an aspiring American actress living in London before World War II. The role has been touted by some critics as the one Adams was born to play.
True, the role does make good use of Adams’ perpetual effervescence and her ability to say any line with conviction, but to call it the role she was born to play not only circumscribes Adams as a actress – there are many roles she was born to play – but it also puts too much emphasis on her character’s position in the film.
Though Adams gives a fine performance as Delysia, equally deserving of attention is Frances McDormand, who plays the eponymous Miss Pettigrew.
As the film opens, Miss Pettigrew is struggling to get by; she has been labeled “a governess of last resort” by her previous employer, and she soon finds herself jobless and homeless. However, Miss Pettigrew is nothing if not resourceful, and she manages to finagle her way to becoming Delysia’s “social secretary.”
Miss Pettigrew knows little about the high-class lifestyle Delysia leads, but her naivety actually proves to be an asset, as she provides sensible advice to Delysia about life, love and her career.
Though the film is ostensibly about Delysia’s transformation into a more level-headed individual, it is just as much about how Delysia’s joie de vivre helps to transform Miss Pettigrew from a straitlaced governess into a woman who follows her heart, consequences be damned.
Adams does good work as Delysia, providing an ebullient foil to Miss Pettigrew’s prudent prudery. It is McDormand’s more subtle performance, though, as a woman slowly learning to open up her eyes and her heart, that gives the film its center.
Framed as a drama, this storyline would be unbearably preachy and sentimental, but instead “Miss Pettigrew” is written and performed as a bouncy comedy with quick dialogue that is loaded with puns, double entendres and other linguistic jests.
There are some undeniably funny moments in the film, including a scene where Miss Pettigrew walks in on one of Delysia’s suitors and finds him conspicuously lacking in the clothing department. But the film’s pacing plods occasionally, which makes certain scenes, like the chaotic dinner party scene, fall a little flat.
“Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” will not appeal to everyone (anyone looking for a raunchy or belly-laugh-inducing comedy should look elsewhere).
But for those who enjoy the work of Adams and McDormand, “Miss Pettigrew” will provide a breezy hour and a half of entertainment.
Staff writer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.