The Private Lives of Pippa Lee Review

Judging purely from the pedigree of the cast of The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, you know you should have a superior film on your hands. And you do; it fits somewhere in the mid-upper echelons of quiet, unassuming films about the tumultuous life of an individual who undergoes one transformation after another as they attempt to find the joy those they once looked up to never could. Through it all Pippa strays from the social norms into a part of herself that she ultimately tries to redeem by living the fabled normal life; eventually she realizes you can’t redeem past decisions, you just keep making new ones.

Present-day Pippa (Robin Wright Penn) has found her way to where she is via the typically unique methods that life has of driving us to be who we are. No two people experience the same sequence of events, but Pippa’s might rank among the more unusual. As a free-spirited youngster she went through a very hedonistic phase involving drug cocktails, suggestive photography, and lavish parties at large estates. The gala that changes her life, however, and leads her to her current predicament, was hosted by her current husband Herb Lee (Alan Arkin), a philanderer and adulterer who takes a shine to her very aloof, and unrestrained tendencies towards love. Simply, he sees her kiss multiple men in the span of a minute and thinks “I want me some of that.” Ladies, I apologize if the next sentence seems more driven by testosterone than objectivity, but Herb’s flirtations with Pippa (played in her younger years by Blake Lively) seems oddly insane considering his wife is Monica Bellucci. His courting of the significantly younger woman continues unabated and eventually they marry, after a rather sudden departure from Bellucci.

With a love story like this framing Pippa’s past, it’s not hard to understand why modern Pippa wouldd need to retrace it all as she begins a secretive romance with Chris (Keanu Reeves), a man closer to her age than Herb. Each rendezvous with her younger beau prompts another glimpse into the past where we see the Blake Lively portion of the film unfold. Her discordant relationship with her mother (Maria Bello). An odd though memorable run in with a kinky photographer (Julianne Moore). Each instance helps propel Pippa down the path where she’d feel the need to redeem it all through a normal, stable life with Herb. The relationship of Pippa and Herb, forged out of Herb’s desire to feel younger by constantly updating the woman on his arm with the newest generation and Pippa’s compulsion to focus all her attention on normalcy, carry them both through a good many years. It’s something to cling to, but neither of them really gets what they need. Thus it’s no surprise that Herb already has Pippa’s replacement (Winona Ryder) lined up, and that Pippa could so easily find someone more suitable to her emotional needs.

With Penn and Arkin it’s hard to go wrong. Both are capable of delivering strong performances, and they do so. However, the film’s dichotomy in terms of good performances and bad, can be compared to Sony’s recent Julie and Julia. On one hand you had Meryl Streep delivering a remarkable show for half the film, but on the other you had Amy Adams playing out Julie’s weak narrative. The same is true of Pippa Lee, but with Penn filling in for Streep, and Lively for Adams. Blake Lively isn’t a bad actress – much like Amy Adams – the story is just a lot flimsier and much less compelling. You still end up with a great character study told over the span of a lifetime, but one half is clearly greater than the other.

DVD Bonus Features

The extras feel somewhat repetitive with Penn and Rebecca’s presence in the audio commentary covering some of the same ground as their interview, also on the disc. Arkin’s interview proves why the man is fun to watch on film, and Lively also shows why she’s becoming an increasingly sought after screen presence.

"The Private Lives of Pippa Lee" is on sale March 2, 2010 and is rated R. Drama. Written and directed by Rebecca Miller. Starring Alan Arkin, Blake Lively, Keanu Reeves, Maria Bello, Monica Bellucci, Robin Wright Penn.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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