Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day (2008)
92 min., rated PG-13.
Hollywood has always fancied reproducing daffy, self-consciously cute homages to the square movies of the '30s, '40s, and '50s. Sometimes it works, sometimes it falls flat. But "Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day," a homage to the classy, jazzy '30s, certainly works as enjoyable froth.
Frances McDormand is dowdily made up but sparkles as Guinevere Pettigrew, an unemployable governess in pre-WWII 1939, London who loses job after job. Left hopelessly penniless on the streets and desperate for work, she bluffs her way into a job as social secretary for a flighty, men-juggling would-be actress named Delysia Lafosse (peachy, saucer-eyed Amy Adams, a true Miss Congeniality). Miss P turns out to be as useful as Mary Poppins to Delysis, who has two caddish beaus on her leash and one piano-playing loser (Lee Pace) who really loves her. The drab Pettigrew undergoes a beauty makeover and may be no expert on love, but might there be a man for the new matron of society waiting in the wings? Jiminy Crickets, you bet your bottom dollar, in the form of a clothing designer named Joe (Ciarán Hinds).
Bharat Nalluri, after directing a slew of B-movies and TV shows, cracks the code of emulating 1930s screwball (based on Winifred Watson's novel) with a breezy pace and mostly weightless tone (there is an air raid after all). After the first 20 minutes' frantic slamming-doors farce of mugging and fluttering about (jeepers!), the film finally potters down and eases the artificiality into a delightful Cinderella comedy of manners. The snappy patter amuses as do mistaken-identity gags like Pettigrew chomping on a cigar and pretending to have a gambling problem. Hinds is a naturally sweet romantic lead as Joe, and Shirley Henderson is perfect with that helium voice of hers as a conniving twit having an on-and-off engagement with Joe.
Even if "Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day" has little staying power as most larks do, it's thoroughly likable from Adams' flittertigibbet charm and McDormand's Pettigrew wisdom carrying the day.