Romantic comedies seem to be a thing of the past. Ever since Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan quit making films together, the genre has fallen into a formulaic slump. Though it won’t lift the genre out of this rut, “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day,” the latest from director Bharat Nalluri, is a good, entertaining film with an interesting feel. And though it avoids many of the common pitfalls that plague the genre, it’s still just another romantic comedy at heart.
Set in London in the days prior to World War II, “Pettigrew” follows governess Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) who has just been fired from another client who claimed she was insufferable. When she’s told by the agency she works for that her services are no longer needed, Pettigrew steals information on a new client. She arrives at the luxurious apartment of singer Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams), a young, attractive socialite in the midst of a crisis — three men are vying for Lafosse’s affection, and she just can’t make up her mind on who to choose. She asks Pettigrew for help and over the course of a day, both women begin to sort out their own lives.
“Pettigrew” is a romantic comedy, so it’s unfair to be overly harsh about the quality of the story. You can expect certain things to happen in a film like this, such as melodramatic love stories. For the most part it succeeds in delivering everything you’d expect. At some points it feels a bit unbelievable and sometimes just downright fake, but at the same time it keeps itself in check. It never gets too carried away, so although you may be able to guess how everything is going to play out, it’s forgivable to an extent.
What makes “Pettigrew” entertaining is its cast, which is made up of a really diverse group who all work well together. No one really lags behind the rest, an achievement that not many films recently have accomplished. And it’s not just the main cast either; the supporting actors do a fantastic job.
Another interesting aspect of the cast is that the two main leads are actresses. It’s no secret that men get all the best roles, which is a shame because there are plenty of talented actresses in Hollywood, which McDormand and Adams prove. These two have just as much talent as the majority of male actors working today, and I’m happy to see them share top billing in a film that really relies on their talents as opposed to their looks.
What might be the most interesting aspect of “Pettigrew” is the choice of location and time. When you think of romantic comedies, you don’t think about major world wars. These were dark and unsure times, the exact opposite of romantic comedies. But Nalluri has set the film in this era for these exact reasons. It wasn’t done for aesthetics — it was done to help put the lives of these socialites and homeless workers into perspective. And the looming war isn’t just something you occasionally hear people say in the background; it frequently affects the story. Just when it seems that a conflict between two characters is about to come to a head, the sound of air raid sirens sends everyone into hiding, praying that it’s just a drill. It was nice to see Nalluri use the setting in such an interactive way, because it really helped give the characters meaning and purpose.
Still, as a romantic comedy, “Pettigrew” can only go so far. While I applaud it for not being the cliché drivel it easily could have been, it’s just an alright film. It entertains enough to warrant the price of admission, but it won’t pull on your heart strings or set off a flood of tears. But for those looking for a little feel-good film to get them through the stressful end of the semester, it gets the job done.