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Friday, April 8, 2016

Bharat Nalluri | Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day


the long hunger
by Douglas Messerli

David Magee and Simon Beaufoy (screenplay, based on a novel by Winifred Watson), Bharat Nalluri (director) Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day / 2008

Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), a vicar’s daughter, is clearly not suitable as a nanny; as Bharat Nalluri’s likeable comedy begins, she has just been fired from the third job in a row. Evidently she can handle the children but her moralistic comments to their parents do her in. And Miss Holt at the job placement agency is not about to give her another chance.
      Broke and starving, Pettigrew picks up a card meant for another job seeker and heads off to the wealthy address where singer, would-be actress Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams) is residing, owned by her club-owner boss, Nick Calderelli (Mark Strong). Pettigrew presumes the position, as usual, requires her to be a nanny, and since Lafosse, expecting another gentleman caller, cannot get her young “man” out of bed, the forceful Miss Pettigrew charges into the room to awaken her new “responsibility”—only to discover that the “naughty boy” is a grown man with an erect penis. Phil, the theater-producing son of a wealthy father, has just spent what might describe as a “casting couch”-night with Lafosse, who now supposes she is a shoo-in for the lead role. 
      So begins the long hungry day for Miss Pettigrew as she attempts to manage affairs for Lafosse, involved not only with Nick and Phil, but also a young man, Michael Pardue (Lee Pace), with whom Pettigrew has literally had a run-in a few hours earlier just as he was released from prison. Michael, Lafosse’s pianist, who is desperate to marry her, has evidentially been arrested after a drunken night where he has attempted to break into the Tower of London to find a proper ring for his love.
       As Lafosse’s social secretary, Pettigrew is just bit more capable than being a nanny—if no other reason is that she does have a tendency to intrude to others’ personal lives. Her attempts to lecture the confused Lafosse, however, seem almost pointless since the singer lives in a whirlwind of ridiculous actions that have a velocity of its own. Nonetheless, elder woman does, time and again, save the day.
      Lafosse, meanwhile, determines to “fix up” her rather drably dressed new friend, and the two, accordingly, warm-up to one another, bolstering both their out-of-order lives: if Pettigrew can help Lafosse to make better decisions about love, Lafosse transforms her secretary into a more beautiful, forgiving, and loving woman.
      Using popular songs of the day such as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” “T’aint What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It),” “Anything Goes,” and “If I Didn’t Care” (sung quite “loverly” by Adams and Pace), director Nalluri whips up an imitation of a screwball comedy like those of the 1930s and 40s, in which the wealthy mindlessly weave in and of each other’s lives, loving, hating, gossiping, and generally refusing to face up to the realities of the day: the time, after all, is 1939, with England and Germany about to go to war.
      Other major figures, the snippy fashion leader, Edythe Dubarry (Shirley Henderson) and lingerie designer Joe Blomfield (Ciarán Hinds) round out a near-perfect cast, who, one by one, are drawn toward Miss Pettigrew the way characters in Being There are drawn to the clueless Chance, the Gardener. Only Pettigrew—forgive the clichés, but the movie calls them up—gives far more specific advice, helping Lafosse to perceive that the penniless pianist is the “one for her,” and winning over the wealthy Joe Blomfield for “a man of her own.”
      The metaphor of this pleasant caper is “hunger”; Lafosse and her kind are forever hungry for fame, love, and money, while Pettigrew unsuccessfully tries time and again just to get a bite to eat (only real sustenance in 24 hours is the cucumber rounds laid against her eyes). Finally, at film’s end, Blomfield, asks if she’s eaten breakfast, Pettigrew honestly responding that it has been a long time since she’s had something to eat. In the end, she is the only one to get everything.

Los Angeles, April 8, 2016

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