Desperate Governesses: Miss Pettigrew lives for the pay

by Beacon Staff • March 19, 2008

She was about to leave the employment agency just as she had come in: a raggedy, jobless, desperate and hungry governess. But the timid Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) snatched a card off the desk when her employer wasn't looking. The card read "Delysia Lafosse," followed by an address. Miss Pettigrew made up her mind. She would go and work at this address under the agency's nose. She was unaware, however, that she was about to throw herself into a world of high society that her tired eyes were not accustomed too.

Miss Pettigrew lives for a Day is the story of a mousy governess in England in 1939. Desperate for work, Miss Pettigrew posed as another woman that was to be sent to Delysia's house as a "social secretary." Upon arrival, Miss Pettigrew realized that this would not be a governess job that she was prepared for. After being shocked half to death upon finding a naked man in Delysia's (Amy Adams) bed, she learned that her tasks would include chasing Delysia's lovers out of her apartment, lying on her behalf, cleaning up after her parties and managing her love life, all in the course of 24 hours.

McDormand subtly and secretly lets the audience know how she is feeling, which is usually shocked, embarrassed and uncomfortable. Her quiet yet telling facial expressions are hilarious but honest, and right away command affection from the audience that has you pulling for her character the whole time.

Miss Pettigrew learns that Delysia is a girl pretending to be someone she is not. She is an actress/singer who is sleeping with one man so that she can live in his apartment, sleeping with another so she can land the lead role in a smash hit musical which will catapult her into a world of fame, and yet another simply because she loves him.

Amy Adams is perfect for the role of Delysia, because she is talented when it comes to overacting, a requirement of playing Delysia. Formerly known as "Sara Grub," Delysia puts on an affluent act to fit in with the effete socialites and snobs, something she wants more than anything. Resembling one of the Chipettes from Alvin and the Chipmunks, Adams' only other duties when playing this include scurrying around frantically, smiling adorably and crying charmingly--and she executes those obligations with aplomb.

Delysia puts Miss Pettigrew through a number of situations that make her squirm. She asks her to lie, teachers her to be vein, encourages her to flirt with a taken man and takes her to a very risqueacute; lingerie fashion show, one that makes her face turn as red as Amy Adams' rosy chipmunk cheeks. Pettigrew makes it clear that she was raised in a way that shielded her from these sinful activities - activities she learns to accept and enjoy by the end of the day. Frances McDormand commands the role of a shy governess with an edge. Her transformation from a shy, shaky and shaggy woman with no self-esteem, to one who confidently says and does the right thing is well-developed and believable Seeing Miss Pettigrew's personality transform from wallflower to budding rose makes us thankful that Delysia is the outgoing, conniving, and silly character that she is. The two compliment each other even with their faults.

As the day continues, Miss Pettigrew surprises herself with what she can accomplish. Delysia helps her find a confidence and inner light she never knew she had. Delysia learns by the end of the day, that love is more important than anything fame could offer her. The two help each other discover true love - and Miss Pettigrew finally gets a bite to eat.

The women in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day compliment each other through their flaws. The two prove to bring out the best in each other, and at the end of the day, they realize they were both women pretending to be someone they were not. Miss Pettigrew brings Delysia down to earth and towards true love, and Delysia helps Miss Pettigrew learn to let go a little and do the same.