Louis Gossett Jr. in Enemy Mine? Oh, heavens, no, it’s Frances McDormand in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day!
A middle-aged, getting-your-groove-back Cinderella story: Miss Pettigrew, an unsuccessful domestic used to taking her meals in breadlines, maneuvers a job with a flighty American “actress” abroad, Delysia Lafosse. Just like that, prim Pettigrew is off the streets and hovering around the nexus of the London smart set, where her self-possession and propriety are suddenly rare and valuable commodities. It doesn’t take long for a reasonably handsome suitor to notice.
The film’s basis is a novel by one Winifred Watson, written in 1938, the year in which Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day is set; shadows of the depression and oncoming war are cast over the proceedings. Pettigrew, as played by Frances McDormand, starts out a dun-clad frowse, hair a crisped nest, seemingly incapable of taking ten steps in any direction without confronting some ungraceful incident. All of this changes with her introduction to Amy Adams’s Lafosse, a dialogue spouter who punctuates her lines with a squirty giggle, and whose sheer momentum of living doesn’t allow Pettigrew space for self-consciousness. Lafosse is the live-in tart of a nightclub owner (Mark Strong), screwing another fella for a stage role (Tom Payne), and desperately in love with a third, noble suitor who wants her and her only (played by Lee Pace; the character has no worthwhile connections, naturally). She plugs Pettigrew into the role of her “social secretary,” charged with keeping all the balls in the air (ahem), and to everyone’s surprise, the Miss does so quite well—McDormand exudes the appropriate sense of astonishment in her newfound capacities. Click here to read the rest of Nick Pinkerton’s review of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.