Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), a middle-aged London governess, finds herself fired and bereft, but suddenly is catapulted into the glamorous, tumultuous world of manic American actress Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams), where she is given a makeover and finds romance herself, while trying to help her new mistress sort through all of her avid, jealous lovers.

Winifred Watson (1906-2002) wrote the popular novel on which this is based in 1938, and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was reissued successfully in 2000, achieving fame for her all over again at age 94. As twee as they come, this Cinderella story might have been a delightful little romp, had it maybe been written by Preston Sturges or Billy Wilder, and directed by the stylish, underrated Mitchell Leisen, whose Paramount gems, Midnight, Easy Living and Remember the Night, are classics of the romantic comedy genre. But this film is strictly a matter of attitude over any real comic substance: The characters behave manically—in some imbecilic notion of Anglo farcical style, spitting out their lines with blinding haste—as if speed will conceal their utter lack of wit. Bharat Nalluri’s direction is entirely wrong—heavily comedic when it should be gossamer light, although nothing I imagine could disguise the screenplay’s maladroit unfunniness.

McDormand, playing another Euro nanny type after Madeline, has little to do but react to all the crazy shenanigans around her and is rather less than convincingly British. Adams, her performance pitched to the highest, shrillest degree, is merely annoying rather than enchanting. Her lovers, played by a modern assortment of Arrow collar ads, are comely but largely interchangeable. Ciarán Hinds, as an older, “wiser” suitor, is just a little less handsome, but that is all that really distinguishes him from the Brilliantined pack. Only the always marvelous Shirley Henderson, with her intriguingly lulling voice and kittenish grace, evinces any real flavorful allure, as a romantically inclined vendeuse. Production designer Sarah Greenwood and costumer Michael O’Connor mercifully lend some eye appeal to the forced proceedings.