The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
- Written and directed by Rebecca Miller
- Starring Robin Wright Penn, Alan Arkin and Keanu Reeves
- Classification: 14A
Awkward in ways both intended and not, the fourth feature from author and director Rebecca Miller ( The Ballad of Jack and Rose , Personal Velocity , Angela ) is an attempt at a comic change of pace for the usually earnest Miller. Her new film (based on her own novel) attempts to reveal the turbulent inner life of a perfect and passive middle-aged housewife as she faces a personal crisis and remembers her childhood and wild youth. The ensemble comedy/drama is afflicted with a tone that veers between a tepid whimsy and earnest pathos, without earning any real engagement.
Beyond the elegant Robin Wright Penn's cheekbones and Alan Arkin's acerbic delivery, Pippa 's rewards are sparse. The results are simultaneously evocative of one of Woody Allen's New York smart-set portraits (but without the pomposity-puncturing one-liners) and any number of stories about underappreciated middle-aged women breaking out of their shells. The ever-smiling, uncomplaining Pippa (Penn) is the hostess for a fancy literary party in a retirement-residence condo in Connecticut, where her publisher husband Herb (Alan Arkin) has recently moved from New York after his third heart attack. Hailed by Herb's friend Sam (Mike Binder) as the "the very icon of an artist's wife," the ever-smiling Pippa is condescendingly praised by the guests for her butterflied lamb and enigmatic calm. Guests also include Sam's whiny would-be poet wife (Winona Ryder).
This prompts Pippa's inner voice to declare: "I've had enough of being an enigma. I want to be known."
From then on, the movie flips back and forth from Pippa's memories of her youth to her present predicament, undergoing a mild crack-up as the youngest resident of a seniors' community her husband calls "Wrinklesbury."
There's a flashback to Pippa's childhood, as the daughter of a bipolar speed-freak mother Suki (Maria Bello) and oblivious pastor father Des (Tim Guinee). In her teens, Pippa (played by Gossip Girl's Blake Lively) escapes her rural home and runs to New York, where she moves in with her lesbian aunt Trish (Robin Weigert). The aunt's partner Kit (a dryly funny Julianne Moore) is a photographer who specializes in light sadomasochistic porn scenarios. Falling under her influence, Pippa slips into a wild life of drugs and promiscuity, before being rescued by the much older Herb. First, though, they must deal with the dramatic exit of his beautiful but mentally disturbed wife (Monica Bellucci).
Back in the present, Herb and Pippa have two adult children, a sympathetic lawyer son (Ryan McDonald) and a war-photographer daughter (Zoe Kazan), a daddy's girl who treats her docile mother with barely concealed contempt. As life in the retirement community unfolds, Herb grumbles about his "decrepitude" and wants to get an office to start working part-time again.
Troubled by an impending sense that she's having "a very quiet nervous breakdown" Pippa discovers she is suffering from a sleep disorder. In the night, she binge eats, smokes and drives the car.
By day, she finds herself drawn to Chris (Keanu Reeves), the rude, "half-baked" misfit son of a neighbouring couple, who has recently left a bad marriage and has a big Jesus tattoo on his chest. As enticing as that combination sounds, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee never finds much sense of urgency in this quasi-romance. Like Chris, the story itself is half-baked, waiting to find a form.