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Movie Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008

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On a personal level Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is off to a bad start. The main reason is that I am not in any way a fan of period pieces. Now granted this plays as a backdrop rather than a central element of the film, but it doesn’t help that nothing else about the film seemed all that great to me.

The time period is the late 1930s (shortly before WWII is about to kick off) and Coen Brothers favourite Frances McDormand plays Miss Pettigrew, a nanny who mistakenly steals a job she thinks requires her skills when actually the position is for a social secretary. When she arrives she finds Amy Adams’ Delysia Lafosse, an actress/singer,  and she quickly helps to whip her life into shape. Delysia has three boyfriends, and with the help of Miss Pettigrew she wants to choose between them. While doing this, Miss Pettigrew finds herself in a love triangle of her own with a lingerie designer, played by Ciaran Hinds, and his cold, bitchy wife.

Now I am not one to completely bash a film because of a certain dislike while omitting the positive aspects I found. The positive qualities start with a pretty obvious one — the production design. Although it never really rings true that it’s set in this particular period of time I still can admit that on a technical level, much like the film Married Life, this is pretty impressive stuff. From the costumes to the make-up, from the hairdos to the surrounding streets, it’s all very correct, if I may use such a bold word.

Frances McDormand, who is the best part of the film, shows that she is as diverse an actress as they come (perhaps even more so) and her character here could have easily been a character created by the Coen brothers; perhaps it would have been a little more developed, but you catch my drift. This is my first time seeing Amy Adams in a film (I never did catch Enchanted) and I’m sorry to say I found her very annoying here. I don’t know if she is like this as an actress of whether it was the way the character was written but either way I just found her extremely irritating. The rest of the cast I felt were pretty wasted here. Although they are fantastic actors on their own, especially Ciaran Hinds and Mark Strong, they just weren’t given all that much to do.

The problems with the movie continue. The film is intended to be a comedy for the most part but most of it wasn’t all that funny to me. Admittedly there are a couple of moments here and there (which come mostly from McDormand’s character) that made me chuckle but for the most part I felt that the majority of the jokes just fell flat. However it seems I was one of the few who felt that way as the rest of the audience seemed to be laughing quite a lot, consistently and throughout most of the movie. And most of those laughing I could tell were women so I have drawn the conclusion that the film is more suited to that gender of movie-goers.

I was very aware that the movie was striving to be cute and quirky. The film also feels annoyingly un-ambitious. Sure there are some aspects of real life that the film attempts to tackle, such as loneliness, security, and of course love, but it never really feels like it pushes it as far as it needs to go.

There’s a certain breezy feel to the whole thing that makes for easy digestion, and McDormand is just great here. But there’s that niggling feeling that it could have been so much more; it feels underwhelming and it doesn’t help that a supposed comedy fails to ignite laughter for the most part. However I guess I am in the minority and when it comes down to it, my negativity stems from a personal dislike of the genre.

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