Friday, May 16, 2008

Miss Pettigrew Lives for [a VERY LONG] Day

MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (dir. Bharat Nalluri, UK, 2008, 92 mins.) The film has an incredible cast, who are beautifully photographed and ably directed. Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Shirley Henderson, and Lee Pace and CiarĂ¡n Hinds as their intendeds (yes, three against two, from whence the "farce" derives), are their typically brilliant selves. In fact, director Bharat Nalluri has guided them through an awkward script to actually deliver exceptional little gems of moments. There may be many more of those moments, but who is to tell in this "Evelyn Waugh wannabe" of a farce. Set in the beginning of World War II in London, the story concerns a society of materialistic and self absorbed characters, who are "visited" by a homeless woman, posing as a social secretary. She will, of course, show them the error of their ways. Frances McDormand is the would-be social secretary to Amy Adams' EXTREMELY flighty actress, who is sleeping with two men for opportunistic reasons while being pursued by a third, who loves her. Adams' best friend, played by the near alien being that is Shirley Henderson (I LOVE HER!), is also in pursuit of an opportunistic marriage, while dallying on the side. It befalls McDormand to straighten out all of these couplings.

Unfortunately, the production design is so ostentatious as to challenge the performers to overcome it. There are breathtaking moments of architecture and costume design! However, such an ELABORATE background dwarfs the farce that is played against it. Though it can be argued that this near cartoon of a setting is reflective of the inner state of the characters, the cast is so adept at squeezing the realism out of the situations, that there is a stylistic disconnect.

Even when their motives are the most deceptive, the performers never allow themselves to become as BIG as the settings in which they are playing, with the exception of Amy Adams. It is her performance which highlights the flaws of the production surrounding her. She raises her energy to match the settings. However the rest of the ensemble do not dare match that without sacrificing their moral centers that they must expose at the end. Had Adams been the villainess in this, the rest of the characters could have met her. However, Shirley Henderson's character (which is as close to villainy as the script allows) is playing a much more social and subtle game that the rest of the ensemble must be attuned to, but which Adams can blithely ignore.

This all becomes disconcerting as the script's outcome is all too obvious within the first ten minutes. One hopes that the remainder of the film would be filled with flippant witticisms or outrageous physical and sight gags. But no. The plot plods along, not to interrupt the seriousness of the moral it will expose at the end. I had such high hopes for this, but considering it took me nearly two months to get in there to see it (as opposed to nearly waiting at the theater the morning ZOMBIE STRIPPERS opened), I was not overly surprised by the disappointment.

Maxxxxx says
re MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY: "Such a pretty bird!"

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