Questionable Taste Theatre: “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”

So usually I’m a nerd or a bastard, but sometimes I’m just a huge sap. It happens. Like when I watch Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

There is not even a pretense of objectivity here, you guys. This movie is amazing. It’s like the director woke up one morning and said, “I’m going to recruit a bunch of character actors from Awesome (Sorta-)British Actor Camp and slap them in ’30s England and let them all have happy endings. Every single one of them.”

This has not happened since Cold Comfort Farm. IT WAS ABOUT TIME.

Nutshell: Miss Pettigrew, an unemployed governess, accidentally becomes social secretary to American nightclub singer Delysia Lafosse. They hit the town with a bunch of adorable people, run around for a day putting on awesome dresses, and get happy endings. It is not Rashomon, is what I’m saying. It is awesome, is what I’m saying.

There could not be any more spoilers, or pictures, under this cut.

“Am I terribly old-fashioned?”

Miss Pettigrew is unemployed, alone, and starving. (An ongoing motif of the movie is her trying to get a bite to eat, which is just sad.) So she does what any awesome person would do; she steals a business card from her employment agency and offers herself as governess to Delysia Lafosse.

Delysia is kind of having a day.

Turns out she’s got a 19-year-old theatre producer in bed, her mean-spirited sugar daddy on his way up the stairs, and a piano player carrying a torch for her. She wants the lead in Pile On the Pepper, she wants her job singing in the club, and she wants Lee Pace to make out with her ASAP. So Miss Pettigrew shifts into best-friend duty, and over the course of the day the woman run from one awesome appointment to another, and reveal more and more about themselves as they wear more and more amazing vintage dresses.

To pretend there’s a plot, Delysia tries to play everyone against the middle except Miss Pettigrew, but this movie knows that each lady will end up with the guy who loves her, and does not even mess with you about it. The sad moments in this movie are when people talk about their lonely pasts; the present is nothing but tailoring and jazz music!

Look, I understand that some people might not be excited by movies where major plot points include “Going To The Lingerie Show,” but I totally am, because look at this shot:

The ladies in tunics on the stage are living statues who point dramatically at the lingerie, at wall sconces, at whatever the hell they feel like. You do NOT tell the Greek statue ladies where to point, okay?

Anyway, the cast is pitch-perfect; newcomer Tom Payne as the adorably clueless producer Phil manages to be a total jerk without actually making you hate him. Nice job, kid. He’ll go places; I’m just marking it here because back in 2000 I watched Children of Dune and said James McAvoy would be huge and everyone laughed at me. Just saying.

Then you have the always-fantastic Ciaran Hinds as Joe Blumfield, lingerie designer and love interest, which should need no further explanation, because he’s Ciaran Hinds. Haters to the left.

Lee Pace is Michael, piano-playing romantic who wants to carry Delysia away from jerky overlord-boyfriend Nick (Mark Strong! He does not fool anyone trying to act like a dickhead, but it’s sweet to see him try!). Michael’s booked two tickets on the Queen Mary! Is Delysia in or out? I mean, you know, it’s Lee Pace. He’s tallest. Naturally it’s him.

I love Michael mostly because when we meet him properly, he gets to see the real Delysia for the first time; her behavior with Miss Pettigrew has shown us what she’s like when she really cares for someone.

Plus, he burns up Miss Pettigrew’s underpants with all his romantic gesturing, which is hilarious for Frances McDormand.

Fun fact: Lee Pace is from everywhere in this movie. His British accent swings wildly from Queen’s English to Scotland, through Ireland, with a brief stop in Australiaville. (I think his voice box is just stuck on shop demonstration.) It’s okay, though, since he turns in a really solid performance.

Interestingly, in a reversal of the norm, the women are the main characters; each dude has three scenes max, often in large crowds where their moments are fleeting, to be as alluring or intimidating as needed. Just throwing that out there.

The movie is basically impeccable, except this production still with his stand-in or something.

I mean, that’s not him, right? Right? (Am I high?)

Ciaran Hinds, however, is no American TV star. He is a trained theatre actor. He does all his own standing.

(My heart!)

My favorite romantic subplot is when Miss Pettigrew and Joe meet up over the course of the day, bond over their shared experiences in the war, and are just generally a couple of cool cats. It’s unspeakably refreshing to see a romantic subplot with a woman over 30, and Frances and Ciaran beautifully understate a romance that takes one day to bloom but feels like it will last. It sounds nuts, but you’ll believe it, I promise, they’re all very good!

By evening he’s enough in love that he asks her to dance, which she’s uncomfortable about because he escorted another woman to the club (Miss Pettigrew is sorta adorable), and also she’s all warm for his form and can’t admit it (double adorable).

(…myheart!)

Since Miss Pettigrew has an advanced degree in ass-kicking (with a minor in name-taking), she soon gets Delysia to admit what Delysia’s known all along, and then Lee Pace gets to punch Mark Strong for a while (“That’s for Emma!”), and then Delysia commits to the man she loves, who loves her for who she is – and who cannot sing, so he won’t even be competition during their long lounge-singin’ voyage across the Atlantic. Win-win-win!

(………myheart.)

Let’s talk about the costumes for a moment, shall we?

Glad we had this talk.

In the end, aside from the happy-ending romantic storylines, this movie is a friendship between a woman who has never been loved and a young woman who wants to be loved for who she is; it’s a strangely bittersweet story about living on the edge of hard times, and getting strength from the people who change our lives no matter how little time they spend in it.

(MY. HEART.)

So, I tried to find a trailer that makes this movie look good, and they all did a really shitty job, so instead here’s the declaration-of-love scene in which Amy Adams sings “If I Didn’t Care” while delivering a stunning performance of a woman who lives on artifice slowly dropping her guard and freaking out about it. Meanwhile, Frances McDormand acts her ass off, Mark Strong makes Frownyface, Tom Payne makes a LOLtacular expression, and Lee Pace mimes himself some heartbroken piano.

(…………………….heaaaaaaart.)

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2014 Appearances

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March 19-23: ICFA (Orlando, FL)

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July 11-14: Readercon (Boston, MA)

August 4: Books Beneath the Bridge, Brooklyn

October 10-12: CapClave (Washington, DC) [GOH]