Reviews

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day sends a lonely, sanctimonious governess from dejection to delight within a mere 24 hours.


Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Director: Bharat Nalluri
Cast: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Lee Pace, Ciarán Hinds, Shirley Henderson
Distributor: Universal
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Focus Features
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2008-03-07 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer
Love is not a game.

-- Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand)

The title tells too much. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day sends a lonely, sanctimonious governess from dejection to delight within a mere 24 hours. Though she begins her day just fired from yet another position, she ends her evening with an ideal mate, her smile warm and winning, her troubles apparently behind her.

Miss Pettigrew, first name Guinevere (Frances McDormand) is imperious in a way that suggests she's also insecure, that is, she's feeling incomplete and poorly measured by the legions of others who can't understand. Ordered from her latest employment by a mistress who is, Guinevere says, too "fond of her sherry," she shuffles off to the employment agency, muttery and self-righteous, with a penchant for punctuating her assertions with exclamation points. It appears she has pushed her luck once too often, however, as her placement officer refuses to help her. "You adapt to them," Miss Holt (Stephanie Cole), plainly weary of explaining how a governess position is supposed to work. Facing a grim immediate future -- in 1939's London, the soup kitchens and homeless shelters are especially dark and dirty -- Guinevere acts impulsively, grabbing an address for one more job from Miss Holt's desk.

As tends to happen in such lightweight contrivances, this last hope will prove the perfect match for our heroine, where she demonstrate repeatedly her verbal dexterity and emotional restraint, as well as her vast reserves of haughty calm. The occasion for this performance is, unsurprisingly, the chaotic household of an American actress. The quite delightfully stage-named Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams, who has now officially played the vivacious sweetheart once too often) is staying at one of her three boyfriend's homes (this belong to the mustachioed nightclub owner Nick [Mark Strong]), missing another (her piano player Michael [Lee Pace]), and desperate to win the lead in a play produced by a third's father.

On her arrival, Guinevere finds the place in post-drunken reverie shambles, mistaking Delysia's request that she get "him" out of bed to mean that she has a child in need of rousing. The fact that you know what's up long before Guinevere does hardly makes you trust her judgment. She explains her inaccuracy as a function of her upbringing: "I'm the daughter of a clergyman," she says, and so her childhood was "perhaps a little sheltered." But when Delysia insists she buy her new costumes, with special attention to adding color to the older woman's utterly drab mien. (You can almost hear Alicia Silverstone squealing, "Project!" as Delysia dons her own fetching hat in preparation for their adventure).

When she meets young Phil (Tom Payne), who is naked ("A bigger boy than I expected!"), Guinevere makes the usual sputtering noises and hurries back downstairs, determined to right the rooms if she can't sort out Delysia's messy romancing. Turns out that Delysia is in fact trying to do that, though she's prone to give herself over to the most hackneyed of come-ons. How convenient, that the brash American and the stuffy Brit have need of one another. When an initial crisis appears resolved and Guinevere suggests she's made a mistake and should be on her way, Delysia stops her. "The crisis is ongoing," she asserts. "I need saving."

Ah yes, such is the design of wacky upper-crusty comedies of the 1930s and early '40s, wherein the loyal servant or underclass interloper proves plucky and resourceful, and the wealthy employer discovers a previously unknown fortitude and moral sense, having spent a little time with someone less fortunate. As much as Guinevere disapproves of her youthful employer's flitty rhythms and self-absorption, the newly defined social secretary does find in her a certain passion and desire that Guinevere has repressed. But before the relationship between the women threatens to become too intimate (class lines needing to remain in place), Guinevere is distracted by her own desire, directed appropriately toward a man her own age, Joe (Ciarán Hinds, ever the exquisite underplayer).

The film includes the usual sort of complication, namely that Joe, a designer of women's brassieres, is currently distracted by his on-and-off-again fiancée Edythe (Shirley Henderson). The fact that she is both deceitful and supercilious, not to mention a most dreadful fashion victim, insures that Edythe poses no competition for her more demure, frequently embarrassed rival. (Guinevere's own social awkwardness does not keep her from dispensing all manner of advice -- good and apparently bad -- to Delysia, who is in turn so keen for a generous companion as well as a vaguely maternal figure that the women bond easily, as much over their mutual errors in judgment as their minor triumphs.

As Delysia and Guinevere debate (mildly) the proper treatment of their male companions ("Men are so untrusting," Delysia flounces, "I wonder why that is"), they come to understand themselves as players in a broad-based game, though each holds out for a conventional love story, earnest and deserved. Here the movie delivers pretty much precisely to expectations. While the sets are lovely and the costumes delicious, the film is limited by its lack of innovation. Recalling an earlier style, it doesn’t find much new to say, about the previous incarnations' contexts or fictions, their efforts to paint a particular picture of a difficult historical moment. As Guinevere and Joe recall their own wartime experiences and lament the youngsters' naïveté, they gesture toward Miss Pettigrew's possibilities, its understanding of the fictions of the era it replicates so carefully. That it ends up reinforcing the fictions instead of reframing or rethinking them is the movie's greatest disappointment -- and even so, it seems trivial.

5

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image