Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Contrived . . .

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is probably meant to be a farce. The shenanigans of a down-and-out middle aged London woman, Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), are rarely funny or pathetic or sympathetic or ironic, even given the screwball attempts to make humor out of a night on the cusp in 1938 of German invasion. She maneuvers into a social secretary job, just for the titular day as it turns out, and experiences a gamut of emotions and connections contrived enough on paper but flat on the screen.

The post-roaring twenties of swinging night clubs is the main setting as Delysia (Amy Adams) wins her way into the hearts of three men while acting like a ditsy Carole Lombard without the wit. As Pettigrew helps her through the shoals, Pettigrew herself struggles with love she fails to see she's worthy of.

In a screwball comedy cum farce, the lines should be rapid, and the alliances blurry; alas, no such comedy resides here. The attempts are too forced, painful to watch because these A-list talents can't make more out of the script, and director Bharat Nalluri continues to emphasize the ambience rather than the wit. Make no mistake, the sets and costumes are first-rate, the music seductively referencing the preeminence of jazz even as swing is preparing to usurp the '20's legacy. But it all seems too, too, a De-Lovely knock off without Cole Porter's charm.

Frances McDormand deftly portrays the outsider, and Amy Adams is comfortable in her magical princess persona. After those fine performances, there's not much left in the day but your admission dollars and a cynical feeling that Miss Pettigrew's day was a loss.