Based on the 1939 novel by Winifred Watson, MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY exudes the jaunty fun of a high-society London bent on squeezing the last bit of joy out of life before heading to war. From the costumes to the Cole Porter- and piano-heavy score, all of the period details are flawless. And Adams is absolutely delightful in her role -- naughty and nice and infinitely expressive without being over the top. (Watch her twitch her nose and stick out her two front teeth when referring to a rabbity competitor and try not to be charmed.) As the well-grounded Miss Pettigrew, McDormand, clad in sensible brown shoes and a prudent wool coat, is the perfect foil to Adams' flighty, lingerie-bedecked heroine. Left to their own devices, they start the movie unmoored; together, they bring out each other's best self.
Still, as engaging as its two stars may be, on close inspection, the movie feels fragile. Its charm is winning, but plot-wise, it's precarious. Yes, it's a fairy tale, but its underpinnings barely hold it together (a little like Delysia, actually). Although we get to know Delysia well enough, the same can't be said for Miss Pettigrew -- not enough to believe that she's never lived until this one day, anyway. But sometimes we just want to go to the movies to be entertained, and that Miss Pettigrew does.