The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
dir-scr Rebecca Miller
with Robin Wright Penn, Alan Arkin, Keanu Reeves, Blake Lively, Winona Ryder, Zoe Kazan, Ryan McDonald, Maria Bello, Julianne Moore, Monica Bellucci, Mike Binder, Robin Weigert
release UK 10.Jul.09
09/US 1h38
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
Get me out of here: Wright and Reeves

arkin lively ryder
Berlin film fest
edinburgh film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee As a more emotional take on the themes examined in American Beauty, this internalised drama is subtle and unpredictable. It also features terrific performances from an eclectic cast.

Pippa (Wright) is married to the much-older Herb (Arkin), a publisher who hates that he's now retired. But it's Pippa whose world is starting to unravel, as she reaches the point where she needs more than being a trophy wife and mother to two now-grown kids (Kazan and McDonald). Her sleepwalking antics indicate that her subconscious has already figured this out, but it'll take a look at her childhood (played by Lively and youngster Madeline McNulty) to help her see what she needs to do next.

"I've had enough of being an enigma," Pippa says early on. "I want to be known." This is the core idea explored in this insightful film, which probes how identity is linked to circumstances. In Pippa's case, her life as a wife and mother was satisfying while it lasted, but she now needs to be defined by who she is, not whom she cares for. This is a resonant theme that we can really identify with, even if Pippa (and the whole film) feels somewhat unfocussed. But Wright delivers a remarkably likeable, introspective performance; we can see her inner light start to flicker as she reluctantly upsets her ordered life.

And both Lively and McNulty are terrific as well, while the supporting cast around Pippa is fairly jaw-dropping. In addition to the always wonderful Arkin, plus a hilariously brittle role for Ryder, there are telling cameos from Moore (as a rebellious "aunt"), Bellucci (as a sexy ex), Binder (as a clueless author) and Bello (as Pippa's mercurial mother). And Reeves is effective in his role as a neighbour's disillusioned son, whose stony exterior hides a soft centre that's understandably attractive to Pippa.

The film is packed with gentle observations, including the fact that Pippa has an addictive personality. And while some scenes are indulgent or rather emotionally muted, the film is also blackly funny and shot with a remarkable fluidity by Miller and cinematographer Declan Quinn. It's a beautiful look at someone who feels that they may not be needed anymore and, as a result, is having "a very quiet nervous breakdown". And in the end it's the unexpected twist on ideas of happiness and sadness that lingers.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 29.Apr.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall