Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is written and directed by Rebecca Miller, who adapted the screenplay from her own novel. The story centers around the title character, Pippa Sarkissian, who eventually changes her last name to Lee when she decides she is finally living a meaningful life.

Pippa in the present is played by Robin Wright Penn, who gives a fine performance here. She is an actress that really deserves more leading roles. Pippa is fifty years old and lives in a retirement community in Connecticut with her husband Herb (Alan Arkin). Her husband is thirty years her senior, a difference made a little more cumbersome by the fact that they met when she was very young.

The relationship between these two characters and the interplay between Robin Wright Penn and Alan Arkin is the highlight of the film for me. Arkin can elevate any written material and make the most of any character. During the flashback scenes, he is an educated and well-to-do man who tries to set Pippa on the right path in the process falls in love with her. He is similar to Peter Sarsgaard’s character in An Education in his persona, but not with his intentions. In other words, he is charming and intelligent, but he means well.

In the present, Herb believes he has been cast aside by Pippa, and at this point she is just waiting for him to pass away. Herb is trying to still live life and Pippa is trying to resolve the errors of her past. Their respective mindsets force them to come rot odds throughout the film. I wish the story had focused more on this relationship.

There are a lot of other characters that come and go, played by well-known actors. Keanu Reeves plays the “half-baked” son of a neighbor who has come home after being fired and breaking up with his girlfriend. (When doesn’t Keanu play a half-baked character?) Winona Ryder is Sandra, a friend of Pippa’s who is having a mid-life crisis of her own. Blake Lively plays the younger version Pippa, with Maria Bello as her speed-abusing and depressed mother. Julianne Moore is a lesbian into S&M that Pippa lives with for a short period while she is young.
With all of these fine actors, it's strange that there is little to no depth to any of them besides Pippa and Herb. Perhaps that is how it was meant to be, but then why put any focus on them at all? I am not against huge talented ensemble casts, but rarely do they work well, unless your director is Paul Thomas Anderson or Quentin Tarantino. It’s rare enough that we get a film centered around a woman having a mid life crisis; so many supporting players shouldn’t be necessary.

Outside of the scenes with Alan Arkin I was pretty bored during this film. The dramatic scenes seemed force and the humor did not work for me. I hope to see bigger and better roles for Robin Wright Penn in the future. I hope the same for all the other actresses in this film for that matter, especially Winona Ryder, who really needs to get a big opportunity to make a comeback already.

2 / 5 stars


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