Tuesday, May 17, 2011

That's Typing Tuesday #3: Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day

"That's Typing" Tuesday, in which I share unpolished, unpublished writings from my vast store of unpolished, unpublished writings. On Tuesdays.

From my notes about Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a 2008 screwball comedy starring Frances McDormand and Amy Adams.

a rarity now, a romantic comedy for adults about adults—and more to the point—about adults behaving like adults ... the sort of thing that studios cranked out by the basketful in the 1930s to great effect ... Hollywood has largely forgotten how to make movies like this; worse still, audiences have forgotten how to watch them.

Frances McDormand as Miss Pettigrew ... neither glam'ed up nor glamorously made plain in the fashion of Hollywood ... simply allowed to inhabit that long face and those impossible cheekbones.

... Amy Adams plays Delysia LeFosse like an Egyptian embalmer has sucked her brain out with a straw—I mean that as a compliment—the sort of role Carole Lombard could have played in her sleep. On the face of it, she's a golddigger, sleeping with three different men, sometimes within minutes of each other, mostly for what they can give her; she's has the attention span of a three year old—"There is something so sensual about fur next to the skin, don't you think?"—and she's the sort of housekeeper who disposes of oyster shells in a kitchen drawer. But her scheming is so transparent, there's a sort of honesty in it, and she's so accepting of the odd, gawky Miss Pettigrew, seeing her not as an inferior but as a soul mate, that you can't help but like her.

This is a performance that could have easily gone wrong ...

As the story opens, Delysia and Miss Pettigrew meet on the thin margin between having and having not ... a major theme of the movie, how precarious it is being a woman in what, in 1939, was very much a man's world ... so that even your enemies are kindred spirits when you're jostling for a spot in the same boat ...

... not so much a love story as a story about figuring out what's worth loving ...

Both McDormand and her unexpected, rather low-key love interest, perfectly underplayed by Ciarán Hinds (Persuasion, Munich), were in their early fifties when this was filmed. ... The trivial pursuits of youth are in their rearview mirror, and with World War II coming on, they know that everything from now on is played for keeps ... adds an undercurrent of melancholy to the daffy proceedings. ... reminds me very much of My Man Godfrey in that regard ...

Based on a novel published in 1938, I get the impression the book's author, Winifred Watson, spent a lot of time at the movies—Miss Pettigrew would fit nicely on a bill with Stage Door and Gold Diggers of 1933 or, for that matter, Pygmalion and Lady For A Day.

Question for my readers: If you were casting this movie in the 1930s, who would you cast as the two leads?

Note: I've now finished watching movies for my essay about 1916. I should have that up in the next few days.

10 comments:

mister muleboy said...

I'm on eof those old Mules who really, really enjoyed this movie.


This post, now that's trouble. . . .


[oh oh; slipped into Wrickles there).

This was delightful. And you mentioned My Man Godfrey, which shot from "never seen it" to "among my all-time favces" about six minutes into the watching.

Of a DVD copy of a shitty print, on top of it all.

Adults behaving like adults.

PS Um, whi didn't you publish that photo of Delysia lounging on the bed in her furs? I know that I've published it.

For you.

mister muleboy said...

good typing there.

And pruefreeding. . .

Mythical Monkey said...

You mean this one?

Woolbridge said...

Jean Harlow and Beulah Bondi... maybe? :o)

Erik Beck said...

I was going to say that Lombard is perfect but they probably would have cast Harlow.

I would have enjoyed Aline MacMahon in Fran's role.

As for Amy in this film? That scene where she is on the couch talking about fur on the naked skin is the scene where I knew she was my #1 desirable actress in Hollywood.

Mythical Monkey said...

Both Beulah Bondi and Aline MacMahon had the chops to pull it off, that's for sure.

Actually, now that you mention Jean Harlow, maybe they could cast Marie Dressler -- the follow up to Dinner at Eight they never got to make. But then Dressler would have to fall in love with Wallace Beery, and I'm not sure I could swallow that much ham ...

whistlingypsy said...

I have seen and enjoyed Miss Pettigrew at least three times, and I like your description of this film as a rare romantic comedy about adults for adults. The film is a rarity also in that the conclusion manages a nice balance of different tones: true to romantic comedies in Delysia’s story and something richer in Guinevere’s story. I was familiar with the British cast, including Shirley Henderson and Mark Strong; I was also familiar with Lee Pace from his television show and earlier film work (I’m still looking for a bargain on the Pushing Daisies set). I had never heard of or seen Amy Adams before this film, but she was a delightful discovery as Delysia. I would suggest Barbara Stanwyck for the role of Miss Pettigrew and this is why: she appeared in a Charlotte Vale type role in Forbidden (1931), a role that included the same transformation from timid frumpiness to elegant loveliness. I also think Barbara Stanwyck could have gracefully handled the self-aware and self-deprecating humor called for in the role. I could see Virginia Mayo as the same physical type as Delysia LeFosse, the same could probably be said of Jane Greer, but I don’t think either could match the broad but light comic touch necessary (the emphasis of both actresses is too much on the noir elements for which each is remembered).

Mythical Monkey said...

Barbara Stanwyck -- what a great idea!

Jane Greer, by the way, is one of my all-time favorites. In addition to Out of the Past, she was also quite good in The Big Steal which has a lot of comedic moments. But she always came across as very knowing, very smart, like she knew more about what was really going on than anybody in the room.

Of the actual cast, you mentioned Shirley Henderson who I remembered from Topsy-Turvy, which came out while Katie-Bar-The-Door were still living in England. That was a great movie -- one of the few that managed to make the act of creation interesting, when Jim Broadbent is fooling around with the samurai sword and then his eyes slowly light up and you know he's come up with The Mikado. Too often movie portraits of artists focus on the trivia of their love lives and addictions when it's the work that makes them worth remembering.

Miss P. said...

"--and she's the sort of housekeeper who disposes of oyster shells in a kitchen drawer."

And why not? You sure have oysters on your blog, but I didn't find any starfishes.

Friendly outcry though,

Miss P.

Mythical Monkey said...

And why not? You sure have oysters on your blog, but I didn't find any starfishes.

That made me laugh.