Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Take Two)

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Bharat Nalluri, 2008) A bon-bon.  A truffle.  A "ladies' pic" with just enough naughtiness to raise the blood pressure a little and maybe bring some color into the cheeks and the blue hair.  Done to a fine "fare-thee-well" and all, but at the heart of the confection is a little piece of grit that could chip a tooth if you're not careful—"careful" being the operative word here.

Miss Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand—what a treasure) has just been given the sack in the days before England is going to war with the Germans; the headlines are bold and the Wellingtons are flying eastward.  But Miss Pettigrew is without situation and penniless, cast adrift like the leaves scattering in the wind (which the Main Titles are animated to resemble).  She is desperate, so when she applies for another position and is roundly given the brush-off, she steals a business card and arrives unannounced at the residence of Miss Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams)—nee Sarah Grubb "of the Pittsburgh Grubbs"—actress, semi-songstress, floozy and ditherer.

She couldn't have arrived at a better time.

Delysia is only dressed in a flimsy robe after entertaining a boy-producer (Tom Payne) in order to gain the lead in his new production, and she's doing so in the lavish love-nest of her boyfriend Nick (Mark Strong), who should be returning at any minute.  As should her other boyfriend, Michael (Lee Pace), who has just been released from prison after trying to nick a diamond for Delysia's engagement ring (the occurrence of which left Guinevere with only the clothes on her back—"small world").

It becomes immediately apparent that Miss LaFosse should not be acting but juggling and she needs a third hand to do so. 

And that's where Miss Pettigrew comes in, and quite literally.

Over the course of the day, everyone is in everyone's "business" if not in the very same room and the various conflicts conspire to creates "scenes" in glamorous settings and scandals if the back-biting and sniping become less passive and more aggressive.  The surface glitter, though, is shadowed by the twin horsemen of war and poverty and Pettigrew, who has known both, manages to be the voice of priority and reason, without completely throwing cold water on everybody's hot jazz.

It's a smart, funny screenplay, played well by an expert cast, even if the the direction gets a little swoopy and frenetic sometimes, and the music soundtrack is selected meticulously to given the film a rhythm and momentum that it desperately needs, even if some of the music chosen isn't precise to the period.

So, what's the "grit" that threatens to tarnish the gold that seems to permeate every one of Adams' costumes in this thing?  The unmistakable whiff of safety that wafts every so often.  That sentiment that everything will be alright, as long as "the right man" comes along.  Sure, the movie toys with "wrong" men, just as surely as Delysia does, but the flirting with "danger" is always casual, the consequences never showing themselves.  There are valid points that "love is not a game," and "you must not waste a second of this precious life," and particularly "there are times when decisions just have to be made, or you certainly will miss out."  All too true.

But, the insistence that all will be well with the subjectively agreed-upon "right" pairing between male and female?  Would it have been so sinful to have the ladies of the story be a little more independent as a solution as opposed to it seeming like a problem that needs to be cured?  As delightful as a movie may be, if those thoughts crop up, it has the tendency to spoil the party.

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