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Given the title Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day one might at first assume the film (rated PG-13 for partial nudity and innuendo) concerns the pious Miss Pettigrew learning to fling away her stifling virtues in favor of the loose-living mores of the showbiz society she wanders into. But while this 1930s-era comedy of manners could hardly be called deep, it is too thoughtful to fully embrace a theme so shallow.
After being sacked from a series of positions, impoverished governess Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) wrangles an interview with lounge singer and aspiring actress Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams). Once there, Guinevere finds the job entails not caring for children but keeping Delysia's many lovers out of each other's paths. Under normal circumstances her moral objections would mandate she refuse the post. But a day spent homeless and hungry on the bread lines convinces Guinevere to relax her standards-if only for a while.
And so, for the next 24 hours Delysia teaches Guinevere the value of lipstick and good, supportive undergarments, and Guinevere teaches Delysia the value of sincerity and real love. Though her outer appearance changes dramatically, Guinevere's outrage at how lightly the socialites bestow their affections reveals that her simple, vicar's-daughter heart remains steadfast. Instead of being transformed by the people around her, her wisdom and sharp wit subtly begin to transform them.
If there is a weak link in Pettigrew, it is Adams as Guinevere's wiggling, giggling employer. Even for a genre that is supposed to trade in stock characters, Adams comes perilously close to Betty Boop territory. This might be less bothersome were it not stacked up against a smart and soulful performance from McDormand.
However fanciful the happy endings are (and there must always be happy endings in this type of production), thanks to McDormand and a sweet, snappy script we believe and celebrate every moment of them.