Film Review: Fairy tale with a twist

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess. Well, she wasn’t so much a princess as an unemployed nanny facing life on the street. And she wasn’t exactly beautiful, but she might be if you wiped the dirt off her face and replaced her ragged clothing with, er, anything else. Keeping this in mind, it’s pretty easy to see where Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is going. It’s Charles Dickens’ take on screwball.

As college students, many of us will find it all too easy to relate to Miss Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand). Dirt poor and freshly out of work, her job hunt doesn’t get off to the best of starts. Luckily for her, she quickly finds herself at the flat of aspiring actress Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams), or at least the flat of her main squeeze. This encounter propels the fairy-tale plot and introduces the prudish Miss Pettigrew to a world she never even knew existed. And so begins the wildest day of her heretofore thoroughly unglamorous life.

As humble and homely as Miss Pettigrew is, Miss Lafosse is flamboyant and drop-dead gorgeous. Though it may seem like the latter is more developed, there is a reason the film is titled after the former. Not only is she enchanting and light on her feet, she is maternal, righteous and grounded. It is she who really believes in true love and puts an end to the fickle games of high society. Nevertheless, they are both rich and vibrant characters.

Overall, everything about the film seems very natural and authentic. It wasn’t dreamt up by some ambitious screenwriter who had never lived during the relevant era. Instead, the story comes from the novel of the same name by Winifred Watson, who actually wrote during the late 1930s. The world was experiencing great upheaval with World War II and widespread economic depression and concern for declining morals was certainly not unfounded. As a result, it is easier to take seriously.

"There’s a real desperation behind (Delysia), driven by the bad times: the Depression in America, and the reality of the world going to war," Adams said. "She’s struggling to keep all the balls in the air, because if one falls, they all fall. She’s definitely an opportunist, and she definitely is manipulative. But her intentions are based purely on her survival instinct."

Irresistibly charming and all-around entertaining, viewers won’t be able to help but leave the theater smiling because it is everything film ever aspired to be. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day can boast a great feel to go along with its solid premise, surprisingly delightful score and overall charming setting.

Clocking in at just 92 minutes, it’s tempting to wish it were allowed to meander a little more. However, when you think about it, that’s just the way a fairy tale ought to be: short and sweet. Let them get on to living happily ever after.

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