Thursday, July 15, 2010

Movie Review: The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009)

Movie Title: The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
Director: Rebecca Miller
Actor(s): Robin Wright, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves
Language: English
Subtitles: n/a
Rated: R
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 98 mins
DVD Release Date: 2 March 2010
My Rating:

Synopsis: At fifty, Pippa Lee (Robin Wright) positively glows with female serenity, the devoted wife of a brilliant publisher thirty years her senior, proud mother of successful twins and a lovely and adored friend and neighbor. But, when her husband spontaneously decides that they should leave New York for a retirement home as a "pre-emptive strike against decrepitude," Pippa finds her beatific persona unraveling in alarming ways. The truth is, the gracious woman of the present day has seen more than her fair share of the wild side. She has finally found love and security in a family of her own. And now, that cozy world, too, is in danger.

**The following review may contain SPOILERS**

My Review: Since this movie has such a long title, I am just going to refer to it as Pippa Lee in this post. I bought the dvd back in March of 2010 after reading about the film and the Oscar Buzz surrounding Robin Wright over her performance. I'm not quite sure why the story intrigued me when I read about it in Entertainment Weekly. Maybe it's because of the many actors that I heard were in it-- Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Alan Arkin, Maria Bello, Robin Weigert, Julianne Moore among the few. Nevertheless, I bought the dvd and it sat on my shelf, collecting dust until last night.

Like the synopsis explains, Pippa is a middle-aged woman married to an established publisher, Herb Lee, that is 30 years older then her. She speaks softly and eloquently, dresses properly, and within the first few minutes of the movie, you get the impression that she is your stereotypical well-to-do "housewife." But there is a sadness in Pippa's eyes as she sits around the elegant dinner table (obviously a housewarming dinner party) among her close friends, grown son, and Herb. Only the movie viewer seems to notice because all of the attention of the dinner guests seem to be focused on Herb. It is this way throughout most of the movie-- people do not come to visit Pippa but her popular husband. No matter how involved she tries to be, whether it is asking a direct question to the couple's company, or having a say in her daughter's dangerous yet interesting career choice (you soon find out that their is a wedge between Pippa and her daughter) it all somehow comes back to Herb. She always seems to be a small speck of dust in her husband's very large shadow and perhaps was content to be that way for years. But not anymore. Something has definitely changed by the time we meet Pippa, and through her first person narrative we get to see glimpses of her previous life-- or should I say the many, "private" lives that this intriguing woman has lived to get her to her current state of mind.

Because they moved from the fast, busy life of the city to the quiet, somewhat sterile retirement home in the country, you can feel Pippa's boredom. Her children are grown and out of the house, her husband is retired, and she no longer has the city lifestyle to keep her distracted. Now in this new environment, her only responsibility is to maybe get involved in a charity, cook, and take care of her husband which requires checking his blood pressure several times a day due to multiple heart attacks (which most likely has forced him to retire). Despite her husband's advancing age and health issues, he is by no means an invalid and even himself is bored. Herb has pride and the viewer gets the sense that he does not like Pippa hovering over him. In Pippa's new liftestyle, she has plenty of time to reflect and I think that is why this movie is so relatable. Most of us know what it is like to have too much time on our hands and how that can lead to productive activities or destructive thinking and behavior.

I gave this movie a 4 out of 5 star rating for a few reasons such as the colorful cast of well-known actors, the neatly woven flashback scenes, and the ability to keep an element of surprise. I have watched countless movies in the past that incorporated flashback scenes. Some worked well while others have left me bored or scratching my head in confusion. In order to find out why Pippa has such sadness in her eyes, or why she married a man 30 years her senior, or why there is such a rift between her and her daughter, seeing glimpses of her past are essential. I actually looked forward to the flashback scenes because they were not only well done but the character portrayals were executed nicely by well known actors. Pippa's mother, Sookie, was played by the talented Maria Bello of Coyote Ugly, History of Violence, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor fame. I don't want to get into too many details about Pippa's mother since it is their complex relationship that sets off a series of events which eventually brings us to our present day Pippa, but I will say that Maria Bello did an amazing job. It was really nice to see her play such a dramatic role.

Two other actresses that surprised me were Robin Weigert who plays Pippa's Aunt Trish and Julianne Moore as Kat, Trish's lover! I first saw Robin Weigert in the HBO hit television show Deadwood, playing the infamous Calamity Jane. The actress just blew me away in that show (if anyone knows anything about the real life Calamity Jane or has watched Deadwood, you will know exactly what I mean) so to see her in something completely different was a delight even if she did not have much screen time. The beautiful Julianne Moore also surprised me by playing the bold lesbian lover of Trish who sort of gets the teenage Pippa into a little trouble. Why I was shocked that Julianne Moore played a lesbian is beyond me since she has proven over her long successful career that sometimes it is the smallest roles that leave the biggest impressions after the credits roll. (Plus I have recently found out that Julianne Moore has played another lesbian in a recent movie called The Kids Are All Right which has been getting some great reviews. I want to see it but it is currently only playing in select cities. Grrr!)

Another actress worth mentioning is the eccentric Winona Ryder who plays Sandra, the much younger friend of Pippa. Sandra is unhappily married to an older (but not quite as old) friend of Pippa's husband Herb. They come over for dinner often so it is quite obvious how close both couples are. I can't give away too much detail but I do have to comment how dreadfully thin Winona Ryder looks in this film. At first I seriously thought it had something to do with her character Sandra. I kept thinking, okay, by the end of the movie it will be revealed that she is starving herself or she has some sort of eating disorder because of her unhappiness and constant negative responses her husband gives her. None of this happens of course and while it can be left open for interpretation, I still can't get her skinny image out of my head. (Winona has not starred in any big blockbuster movies in recent years, staying in indie flicks and usually playing minor or supporting roles like Pippa Lee. I do have the 2008 movie The Last Word in which she plays the main lead so when I get around to watching it, I will write a review for it.)

Okay, lastly and definitely not least, I must say a few words about Keanu Reeves performance. Keanu plays Chris Nadeau, the enigmatic son of Pippa and Herb's neighbor and friend Dot Nadeau. Before Pippa is ever introduced to Chris, Dot comes by to talk to her about how upset she is with her 35 year old son who must move back home do to his current divorce and lack of job. Dot feels that at his age he should have a career and seems to blame him for his failed marriage. She seeks out Pippa's council since everyone thinks that Pippa is wise and graceful and filled with all the right answers. Pippa finally meets Chris at the Nadeau residence to pay her respects after Dot's husband passes away. She is invited in by a guest or relative and I couldn't help but notice that the walls of the living room were painted a bubblegum shade of pink which I thought was kind of odd. Pippa goes to find Dot in the house and hears arguing coming from one particular room (which you soon find out is Chris' room). When Pippa knocks on the door to announce to Dot that she has arrived, Chris yanks it open and I think her spoke volumes. At the door is a shirtless Keanu Reeves--I mean Chris--with a huge tattoo of Jesus that spands from his collar bone down to his stomach/abdomen. It's so in-your-face that it left Pippa and even myself, speechless for a moment. Then of course I asked myself, when, why, how? It just made Keanu's character even more intriguing. Besides the shirtless, irritated Chris and the obvious argument that he was having with his mother, the other thing that you can't miss is the drastic change in color. Instead of bubblegum pink, Chris' room is a bright green and his bedsheets are yellow. There may be a few people that think I'm crazy for this analysis but within those few minutes--from the time Pippa enters the house to when she comes face to face with Chris--something told me that Chris' issues somehow stems from his childhood. I'm not saying Dot is a bad mother because you can tell she genuinely is concerned for her son,'s just a feeling I got from the extreme color schemes in the house. Like Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves is another one of those actors that you really don't see much of in recent years. Despite this, I really like and enjoy his acting despite critics saying that he has no range.

Okay now for the minor reasons why I didn't give this movie a perfect rating. While I absolutely loved the flashback scenes and the pertinent information that is given to us so we as the viewer can fill in the gaps in Pippa's life, I feel that some things could have been elaborated on. Again, I don't want to give away too many details but one thing that bugged me was Pippa's father and brothers. Her father was a reverand and she had at least 3 or 4 older brothers. I understand that her mother had issues and that it lead to Pippa moving out to seek refuge with her Aunt Trish. But why didn't her father step in? Why didn't any of her brothers, who most likely were out of the house and living on their own offer her a place to stay? Okay now hold that thought and let me go back to Aunt Trish and her lover Kat. Without giving away too much detail, Kat sort of causes a little trouble between Aunt Trish and Pippa. In my personal opinion, a 16 year old Pippa should not have been held accountable and I was shocked when Pippa was dumped on the street to fend for herself. Why didn't Trish reprimand Kat? Why would she be mad at an underage Pippa? And going back to her brothers, why didn't she go live with them? The movie made no mention of a fight with her brothers or even her father. I just could not understand or find it believable that not one brother kept in touch with her, even later in Pippa's life. I wish the script had elaborated a little more on her relationship (or lack there of) with her brothers.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is one of those movies that may be sitting on your shelf collecting dust or you have passed several times at the video store because you just aren't sure if you are in the mood for a drama about a middle aged woman going through a sort of midlife crisis. But it is much more then that. With a great array of actors and a few surprises here and there that keeps you interested until the very end, this is definitely one of those movies that is worth giving a couple of hours of your time to. (Especially on a rainy day or with a friend or mother!)


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