Miss Pettigrew sure carpes the diem

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

Do you miss those wonderful old screwball comedies from the 1930s? Well, now’s your chance to carpe diem – seize the day – and return to those jolly times of yesteryear. You’re in for a real treat watching “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” currently playing at the Visulite in Downtown Staunton.

This old-fashioned charmer sports a sterling cast, headed by Frances McDormand and Amy Adams.

McDormand plays a down-and-out English governess who, on the eve of World War II in London, loses her job and (through pluck and luck, of course) becomes the social secretary of society darling Adams.

In full scatterbrain mode, Amy Adams flutters and flitters, balancing three suitors with the help and guidance of McDormand. The plot is right out of the ’30s, the set design and costumes are dreamy, and the music is perfect for the period with standards like “Anything Goes,” “Dream,” and “If I Didn’t Care.”

The gents who pursue our flibbertigibbet female are played by Mark Strong (a dead ringer for Basil Rathbone), Lee Pace as a poor-but-honest pianist, and Tom Payne as a wealthy playboy. It’s easy to figure out which one the lovely redhead SHOULD succumb to, of course, but the rustic story line is of secondary importance.

My favorite male character in the film is Ciaran Hinds, the sturdy Irish character actor who played Caesar in the HBO series “Rome.” In this one he’s a fashion designer and the love interest for McDormand’s Miss Pettigrew. Their scenes together on screen are, alas, far too few, but the story glows whenever they meet.

This romantic comedy runs a brief 90 minutes, and is one of those films that you just wish would go on and on.

The costumes are properly frumpy with hose 1930ish shoulder pads. Made me kind of wish Eleanor Parker wasn’t still around, dewy and noble in her suffering.

Director Bharat Nalluri, who’s spent most of his career in English TV, skillfully blends this pot of prewar nostalgia into a delectable stew. For those of us old enough to remember the era, it’s a real hoot of a trip, and for younger fans of top shelf acting it’s a satisfying reward.

Both the leading ladies have won their acting chops in spades. McDormand, with four Oscar noms, won her first Academy Award for the unforgettable preggo cop in 1996’s seminal “Fargo,” and Amy Adams blazed her way to stardom with her Oscar-nominated performance in “Junebug” in 2005.

For today’s far-too-cynical audience, capturing that place and time is a precarious undertaking, and how many attempts at “screwball” comedies have crashed and burned since “Some Like it Hot?” Here, at last, is a butterscotch movie that only hints at the grim future faced by these characters and concentrates on exactly the kind of entertainment film fans needed at that time.

Meanwhile, back at the Dixie:

Best offering in the downtown Staunton theater is currently “The Bank Job,” a classy bank heist flick based on a true story. Far too many bank job films fall by the wayside, but this most recent is one of the best ever made.


Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.

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