Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee - Review

I ticked another one of the movies on my must see before the New Year list this afternoon. While hundreds of thousands of Vancouverites lined the streets for the Rogers Santa Claus parade, I resisted the urge to leak the news to all the kids I passed that Santa was a big old fake and made my way to The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. Written and directed by Rebecca Miller (daughter of Arthur Miller and wife of the incomparable Daniel Day Lewis), this is the story of a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

From all outward appearances, Pippa Lee (Robin Wright Penn) leads a charmed existence. She is the devoted wife of an accomplished publisher (Alan Arkin) thirty years her senior, the proud mother of two grown children, and a trusted friend and confidant to all who cross her path. But as Pippa dutifully follows her husband to a new life in a staid Connecticut retirement community, her idyllic world and the persona she has built over the course of her marriage will be put to the ultimate test. In truth, looks are deceiving, and this picture-perfect woman has seen more than her fair share of turmoil in her youth. Embarking on a bittersweet journey of self-discovery, accompanied by a new, strange and soulful acquaintance (Keanu Reeves), Pippa must now confront both her volatile past and the hidden resentment of her seemingly perfect life in order to find her true sense of self.

Alternating between flashbacks that delve into Pippa’s past and her present quiet meltdown, this is a beautifully shot film. I loved the seamless way they flitted between the past and the present and was intrigued by the way the colour palettes in the past and present were also very distinct.

With a supporting cast that includes Maria Bello, Blake Lively, Monica Belluci, Julianne Moore and Winona Ryder, I really really enjoyed this film. It was funny and sad and witty, a beautifully shot movie. Robin Wright Penn has not carried a film in a long time, instead playing supporting roles in a number of movies. In Pippa Lee she shows that she is worthy of lead roles and should be considered a force to be reckoned with amongst other actors of her age group.

Alan Arkin and Keanu Reeves as husband and savior respectively are also solid. I must say that Alan Arkin’s wig during the flashback sequences was ridiculous and so very very bad, and seeing him lying next to the very very nekkid Blake Lively (as the young Pippa Lee) was very very icky considering he is 50 years older than Lively. I was frankly a little bit surprised to find myself somewhat attracted to Keanu Reeves, something that hasn’t really happened before. Apparently, when he shaves and showers he knows how to bring the quiver. Who knew?

Moore and Ryder revelled in their relatively minor roles, in particular I was glad to see Winona back on the scene as a character that delivered some of the best laughs in the film. Maria Bello and Blake Lively were very good, Bello’s performance as Pippa’s drug addicted mother makes me remember why I enjoy seeing her on the screen. Lively – best known from Gossip Girl – showed that she has a career ahead of her once her turn on the CW’s hit show comes to its inevitable end. The range she showed and the depths of emotion that she was able to reach honestly surprised me a little.

Again, this was not a perfect movie. I found Pippa’s children and her relationship with them kind of redundant. They didn’t add anything to the film that we didn’t see in her interactions with the other characters. The grand trauma in Pippa and her husbands life, that apparently seemed to hang over their marriage and define their relationship was simply mentioned in passing two-thirds of the way through the film over as an addendum to everything else that had happened in Pippa’s life.

But these are minor plot points that can be overlooked for a film such as this. I found this funny, warm, uplifting and smart. Held together by impressive performances – in particular that of Robin Wright (I think she has ditched the Penn) – this was one of my fave movies of the year thus far. And considering I see pretty much every movie, that is saying a lot!

Go see The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. You will not regret it!


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