McDormand saves the day

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day

It’s rare that a movie is both lighthearted and thought-provoking, but if one succeeds, there’s typically a solid actor like Frances McDormand at the center. Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day takes what would be fluff in the hands of a less capable actress—or one with less ability to bring a lived-in soul to life—and makes it a tribute to the power of character.

Based on a novel from the ’30s (which was sold three times to the same film studio—that’s a fun story, included on the DVD’s two extra features), Miss Pettigrew is racy in the nicest of ways. Up-and-coming actress Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams) is sparkling and good-hearted in spite of her tendency to not quite tell the truth, juggle three men at a time and use a little bit of sex to get ahead.

Miss Pettigrew, a down-on-her-luck, un-Poppins-like governess, weasels her way into a gig as Delysia’s social secretary and takes a single day to solve all the young lady’s problems. And while the fun and games unravel, bombers are training and the air-raid alerts are starting up, because you know that the problems of a few little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy, mixed-up world. Nonetheless, Miss Pettigrew brings the problems of those little people to an emotionally satisfying closure, just in time for everyone to go to war.

The real treat is McDormand, who keeps the film from falling into a wacky parody of madcap, dressing-gown comedies. She makes sure that we see the humanity in Miss Pettigrew—which allows us to see it in everyone else as well.