Married Life takes place in an imagined 1949 America. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is set in a fairy-tale 1939 England. Yet both pictures bear the recognizable time stamp of right now. Don't be fooled by the frothy vision of Amy Adams in draped furs and fetching hats as Miss Pettigrew's madcap American nightclub singer and aspiring actress, or by the sleek, platinum blond grace of Rachel McAdams as a thoughtful widow in love with another woman's husband in Married Life. These re-created epochal settings, with lavish attention paid to the serving of tea cakes, mask thoroughly modern, approving attitudes of feminine autonomy and sexual equality, both by the writers and directors as well as the frisky actors happy to play historical.
And by actors I mean, specifically, actresses. McAdams and Adams are dewy, vibrant stars whose popularity lies in the feminist independence they generously grant to the fictional women they play. How we love the trappings of other periods -- provided we can tinker with the period attitudes to suit our current fashions! Both these slight, wistful movies -- evanescent diversions with a combined weight of less than a magnum of champagne -- play at matters of financial, professional, marital, and erotic dilemma with all the seriousness of an after-dinner game of charades. Mostly, they each put on a pretty show.
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