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Case Number 14303

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Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day

Universal // 2008 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // August 19th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Christopher Kulik lives for Amy Adams.

The Charge

Every woman will have her day.

Opening Statement

While critically acclaimed, Miss Pettigrew For A Day didn't really garner much attention outside the limited spectrum of theaters. Now available on DVD courtesy of Universal, this delightful mixture of madcap mischief and screwball comedy should find a wider audience.

Facts of the Case

Broke, middle-aged, out-of-work London governess Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand, Fargo) sneakily obtains a new assignment—watching over and taking care of socialite and sometime actress Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams, Enchanted). For one day, Miss Pettigrew will experience high society like never before, while Lafosse is struggling to examine her feelings over sleeping with a number of courtly admirers. Unfortunately, both of them don't have much time, as war is looming on the horizon.

The Evidence

In 1938, Winifred Watson published most her most well-known and controversial novel. Focusing on women's roles and class differences within the gender, Watson's text is rife with risqué humor, colorful language, and even drug references (cocaine, anyone?), though ultimately it's about how the title character charmingly changes over the course of one day, thanks to the help of Lafosse. Originally, Watson sold the rights to Universal and a musical adaptation was going to be made, but production was halted due to the outbreak of war. Maybe it's just as well. It might have made a good picture, but probably not overly faithful to Watson's novel.

Watson passed away in 2002, disappointed her favorite book never made it to the silver screen. I'm convinced she would have loved this film, with top screenwriters David Magee (Finding Neverland) and Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) lovingly adapting the narrative while also retaining the characters, their mannerisms, and the author's stylish wit. The setting remains the same, with the time only slightly changed to the eve of World War II. Director Bharat Nalluri and his crew approach the time and place with an idealized slant, occasionally over-the-top, but almost always satisfying for the eyes.

Fans of period pictures will definitely want to check out Miss Pettigrew. Two-time Oscar nominee Sarah Greenwood's lush production design is supported by her art direction and set dec team from Pride & Prejudice and Atonement. Utilizing the famed Ealing studios for production, two key set pieces—Lafosse's flat and the Savoy Hotel—are overflowing with visual grandeur. Kudos to the costumes by Michael O'Connor (The Last King Of Scotland). Both lead actresses have elegant wardrobes and the lingerie show at the Savoy is a highlight. While the tech attitude towards the times acts more like Grease than a Merchant-Ivory production, it's still full of rich color and life.

Add to that two of our finest actresses taking on the lead roles, and you have yourself one winner of a film which, never for a second, fails to please. Frances McDormand's trademark style is here in full comic force, as she seems to have a trick up her sleeve every six minutes. Matching her is Adams, who is really just a big bundle of red-headed joy and calling her character a slut would be impossible (though it is tempting). I fell in love with Adams, the minute she exhibited that big braces-filled smile in Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can. Six years, an Oscar nomination, and a multi-million dollar Disney hit later, and she's proven she can turn any role into something special.

Universal and Focus Features give Miss Pettigrew a respectful dual-layer DVD treatment. Consumers will be happy with the choice of 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (on Side A) or 1.33:1 full frame print (on side B). Either way you go, the picture is sumptuous and near-perfect, with only the slightest amount of over-lighting keeping it from scoring perfection. We also have a glorious Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track, which brings out the best in the big-band, '30s-style score by Paul Englishby (Becoming Jane). Subtitles are provided in English, French, and Spanish.

The bonus material is really a hit-or-miss affair, however. An audio commentary by director Bharat Nalluri is available on both sides. The guy delivers information in a mostly dry manner…although he does keep talking all the way through, only occasionally lightening up with a joke or jab. On Side A, we also have eight minutes of inconsequential deleted scenes (all anamorphically enhanced), and a featurette entitled "Miss Pettigrew's Long Trip to Hollywood," where Watson's son talks about her mother and her efforts to see the film being made (she sold the film rights to Universal three times). The sole extra on Side B is a promotional featurette—"Making an Unforgettable Day"—which runs 18 minutes and is pretty forgettable.

Closing Statement

In many ways, Miss Pettigrew echoes the screwball comedies of the '30s. As such, it shouldn't be taken too seriously or examined inside and out like those fluffy delights of yore. The story is thin and unchallenged, furiously speeding the course of a 24-hour day and really giving only one direction for the characters to go. Occasionally, the film itself strives too much for a fairy tale quality which isn't all that necessary. Still, as long as you are swept up in the shenanigans of both McDormand and Adams, it really shouldn't matter, especially when they're a treat to watch.

The Verdict

The actresses and movie are free to go. Now, time for tea!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 97
Audio: 97
Extras: 81
Acting: 99
Story: 89
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• Audio Commentary with Director Bharat Nalluri
• Deleted Scenes
• "Making an Unforgettable Day"
• "Miss Pettigrew's Long Trip to Hollywood"


• IMDb

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