Since Hollywood has been churning out feature films for the better part of the last century, there's bound to be some stories told that are mightily similar. Luckily, hard-working writers have found ways to keep seemingly well-trodden stories fresh by changing the characters' genders, social standing or by placing the story in a wacky time period or country. The works of William Shakespeare, for instance, have been told over and over again, relying on fresh spins to keep audiences enthralled. When a story cannot be spruced up by any of the mentioned devices, it's time for actors to save the day, as is the case with Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.
Set in London just before the Second World War, the film begins with the titular character, British nanny Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), being tossed out on her ass from the latest in a line of jobs. Desperate for work and facing the prospect of being out on the street, Pettigrew scrambles her way into a job as a social secretary for ditzy American actress Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams). Learning her new job on the fly, Pettigrew struggles to help her new employer juggle three suitors while attempting to find happiness herself.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is nothing new. The story has been told countless times before, often in much more inventive ways than director Bharat Nalluri and writers David Magee and Simon Beaufoy have envisioned. The storyline is stunningly paint-by-numbers and often the viewer can find themselves successfully guessing what each character will do in almost every scene.
That said, the film's saving grace is undoubtedly the cast. Academy Award winner Frances McDormand sports a disheveled look throughout the film, but shines as the outsider drawn into the wacky world of upper-crust socialites, her accent never betraying the setting of the film. Amy Adams delivers the latest in a long line of strong performances, this time playing an aspiring starlet tangled in a romantic web of her own making. The trio of actors playing Adams' suitors--Lee Pace, Tom Payne and Mark Strong--all perform admirably, especially given they're portraying the least-developed characters in the entire film.
Filmgoers traversing to multiplexes to see Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day will not want to see the film because of its writing. The screenplay is nothing to write home about and the characters are, at best, barely three-dimensional. Nevertheless, an otherwise forgettable film is saved by a team of excellent actors seemingly hellbent on making each page of the been-there-done-that script worthwhile. As a result, while the film fails to leave a lasting impression, the efforts of the cast make Miss Pettigrew an enjoyable way to pass the time.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day opens Fri., Mar. 7.