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Amid the patter, 'Miss Pettigrew' tips toward complex drama

Starring Frances McDormand and Amy Adams, 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' is an actor's showcase of the very best kind.

'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day': Costarring Amy Adams (center left), the film masquerades as flighty farce.

Kerry Brown/Focus Features

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It's fortunate that "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" stars Frances McDormand and Amy Adams. Actors' showcases are only worthwhile if the actors are worth watching.

Based on the 1938 novel by Winifred Watson, it's a deluxe romance that most of the time plays like farce.

Guinevere Pettigrew (McDormand) is a middle-aged governess in 1939 London who has just been dismissed from yet another job. (She does not suffer fools gladly, or any other way.) Suddenly destitute, she bluffs her way into a job as "social secretary" to the flouncy, man-hungry American ingénue and singer Delysia Lafosse (Adams).

Delysia – sounds like "delicious" – is currently ensconced in the penthouse of her nightclub owner boyfriend (Mark Strong), one of three suitors she is juggling. The other two are Michael (Lee Pace), a pianist who is devoted to her, and Phil (Tom Payne), the spoiled 19-year-old impresario who, for the right amount of whoopee, may star Delysia in his new show on the West End.

Delysia is "entertaining" Phil when Miss Pettigrew walks in on them. What follows immediately is forced high spirits. If the movie had continued in this vein it might have ridden off the rails, but fortunately things calm down (somewhat). Director Bharat Nalluri and his screenwriters David Magee ("Finding Neverland") and Simon Beaufoy ("The Full Monty") like to pump up the proceedings with ultra-stylishness and high-speed patter. What they don't always recognize is that too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.


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