Release Date: August 19, 2008
Starring: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Lee Pace, Ciaran Hinds, Shirley Henderson and Mark Strong
Based on the Novel by: Winifred Watson
Screenplay by: David Magee & Simon Beaufoy
Directed by: Bharat Nalluri
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day is a lovely puff pastry of a film, punctuated by some moments of depth as it goes into its third act. Based on Winifred Watson’s 1938 novel, the film follows the title character (played by Frances McDormand) as she pretends to be the assigned governess to a young actress/singer (Amy Adams) who herself is leading a potential triple life as she dances between the arms of three different suitors. It’s a frothy piece of work, done in the style of period comedies, and an unexpected departure for director Bharat Nalluri, previously known for his work on The Crow: Salvation and on the pilot for the TV series Life on Mars. While the performances are appealing, and McDormand goes through a convincing makeover for a plain beginning to a more glamorous mode, the film takes a while to actually get into a compelling gear. It’s only in the third act, where Amy Adams is called upon to perform in a convincingly heartbreaking rendition of “If I Didn’t Care” that the film finally catches fire. And from that moment forth, the film resonates a bit more. Throughout the film, a somewhat darker tone is taken than in the source novel – via the inclusions of the impending conflict of WWII and some sequences showing Miss Pettigrew in pretty dire poverty – but the light tone is sustained with bright colors and a series of running gags and motifs. (One particularly fun one has to do with Miss Pettigrew constantly being foiled in her efforts to get something to eat – until she takes a most unusual tack...)
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day had a pretty quiet run in the theatres, and appears destined for a quiet release on DVD. But they’ve definitely taken some time to come up with a few special features, including an audio commentary with the director, some deleted scenes, and two featurettes. This is a 2-sided DVD, with an anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film on one side, and a full-frame transfer on the other. The deleted scenes and one featurette appear on the widescreen side, while another featurette appears on the full-frame side. The commentary is available for both versions, and each side is prefaced with a different pair of trailers. (One wonders why a full-frame version is being made available in the current day and age – I’d venture a guess that the film is intended to appeal to viewers more likely to have standard televisions as opposed to the widescreen HDTVs. And not to get myself in a lot of trouble, but that audience doesn't tend to be younger men.)
VIDEO QUALITY: 3 ½/5 ½
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day has a nice, bright anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer going for it. (I didn’t evaluate the full-frame transfer carefully, but it appeared to be a pan & scan of the widescreen transfer from the first side. As a result, it appeared a bit grainier.) Flesh tones look accurate, although the whole film has a fairly warm color scheme to it. McDormand’s plain look with the frizzy hair gives way to a more radiant glow as she is made over, and the transfer captures that pretty nicely. Blacks in the various night scenes look pretty solid, and detail work on the period costumes and undergarments is sharp.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English, and a Dolby Digital mix in French. As can be expected, the film pretty much lives in the front channels, although there is some sporadic use of the surround channels for atmospheric effects. For most of the time, the surround channels are simply used for the music that permeates the film. This isn’t the most active mix, but the dialogue is fairly clear, if a bit quiet in spots.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 3/5
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day comes with a director’s commentary, deleted scenes and two featurettes discussing the process of making the film.
On the front of the disc, with the anamorphic widescreen edition of the film, we find:
Feature Commentary by Director Bharat Nalluri – Nalluri delivers a scene-specific commentary to the film, which can be heard over both the widescreen and the full-frame versions. He’s pretty dry and matter-of-fact, but he does cover a fair amount of ground. He goes over the staging of various scenes, and describes what was cut from some sequences for time (and also mentions that those pieces should be on the DVD in the “deleted scenes” section). During the climactic duet, Nalluri describes staging the action on a turntable, which makes little sense in terms of realism, but works beautifully in terms of dramatic storytelling.
Deleted Scenes (8:44, Anamorphic) – Several deleted scenes are presented in anamorphic widescreen format. What’s interesting here is that almost all of them present crucial plot information cut from the final print. Here we get to see WHY Miss Pettigrew was cruelly fired from her prior position, and the origin of the salty dialogue she spouts with a cigar when needed by her new client. And we also see how she deals with the actual governess for the client when the woman shows up. (In the released film, the assigned governess never appears, leaving a hole in the story.)
Miss Pettigrew’s Long Trip to Hollywood – (8:04, Non-Anamorphic) - This featurette begins with a discussion of the source novel by director Nalluri, producer Stephen Garrett and Keith Pickering, the son of the novel’s author. As we learn, the book was originally sold to Universal Studios just before Pearl Harbor and was intended to star Billie Burke (“Glinda the Good Witch” from The Wizard of Oz). The project was abandoned once the US was involved in WWII and did not seriously get prepped for production again until the current producers got Frances McDormand interested. (And then discovered that Winifred Watson had somehow sold the novel three different times for a film version, more than once to the same studio!) This is all fun interview material, peppered with on-set video and a few clips from the film.
On the back of the disc, with the full-frame version of the film, we find:
Making an Unforgettable Day (18:21, Non-Anamorphic) – This is a standard making-of featurette, with all the main cast giving the standard supportive comments for the director and the project. (Although McDormand does mention that Nalluri was making comments about blowing stuff up again in his next film before it was over.) Elements of the period production and costume design are discussed, along with the reverse makeover of McDormand required to make her as plain as possible until she gets the beauty treatment. Amy Adams gives a great description of filming a scene outside the Savoy in London where everyone outside is in full period look with all the 1930’s cars, and the tourists inside are of course in modern clothing and Bermuda shorts...
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference for both versions of the film. When the front side of the disc is initially started, the viewer is presented with an optional pair of non-anamorphic previews for Hamlet 2 and Baby Mama. When the back side of the disc is initially started, the viewer is presented with an optional set of non-anamorphic previews for Billy Elliot: The Musical (this will be the Broadway stage premiere, not a film or DVD), and the DVD releases of Leatherheads and Barbie & The Diamond Castle.
IN THE END...
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day did not really pull me in until the final act, but it will certainly appeal to audiences looking for a light period romance with a little depth and a lot of character detail. Women will likely be more drawn to this picture than young men, for obvious reasons. Fans of Amy Adams will enjoy watching her shine through this piece, while fans of Frances McDormand can see her add yet another rich portrait to her long list.
August 16, 2008.