The Private Lives of Pippa Lee – Movie Review

A heart felt effort but too slow to be called completely entertaining.  Plenty of time to think in between crises

Writer director Rebecca Miller lays life bare in her latest film about a woman who has it all and sometimes wishes she didn’t.  Following her successes in the introspective “Personal Velocity: Three Portraits,” “Angela” and “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” (starring her husband Daniel Day-Lewis) Miller has had the time and confidence to sit down and develop a substantial screenplay and deliver a demanding directorial effort.  The result is an entertaining, if not engrossing, drama that is a heart-felt slice of life.  The movie features a prestigious cast and crew that are a joy to behold.

Robin Wright Penn borrows a bit from her part in “Forest Gump” (1994) as the gifted and desirable woman of the world.  The problem with having it all at her fingertips is the danger of letting too much slip away.  This is not her fault but more a matter of the way the fates deal with her and those around her.  In the end, others who seem less deserving at first glance pull ahead in the end in settling into more contented life styles. 

Alan Arkin returns to the screen to do what he does best—support other actors.  Although twice nominated for Oscars in the 1960’s (“The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” and “The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming”) he brought more tears to the eyes and laughter to the hearts of those lucky enough to see the super-sleeper “Little Miss Sunshine.”  Since then he has appeared in several films helping lesser known leading performers be seen at their best.  In this film he plays Pippa Lees understanding and accomplished husband who combines the patience of Mother Teresa with the ironic wit of Larry David.  This takes a strange turn when the nocturnal adventures of the mildly neurotic Pippa Lee begin to come to light.

In this film Arkin he anchors both Penn and Keanu Reeves, the latter putting out a performance that is as different as it is entertaining.

Reeves made his first mark in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and fought hard to beat the stereotype of the spaced out teen that launched his initial success.  This was followed by the thrillers “Speed” and “The Matrix” but it was only recently that he made the full transition to serious adult roles.  In “Pippa Lee” he is all grown up and the audience is yearning to see what he can do.  He is great to watch in spite of seeming tense and restrained; perhaps afraid of giving something away.  His demeanor is perfect as the outcast with the heart of gold but his lines seem to come from Clint Eastwood parts that do not fit the mold.  The lack of verbiage focuses on his acting which is good but still leaves us wanting more.  His fans will love him in this film but this is not the part that will lift him to the next level.

The redoubtable Maria Bello returns to the screen with a bang as the woman in Pippa’s life who made it all happen.  For better or for worse.  She definitely gets the nod for highest energy character in the screenplay as Pippa’s mom Suky Sarkissian (gotta love that name) when she gives birth to Pippa and the child is born with extensive body hair.  Apparently this is a short lived phenomenon but can be disconcerting to nervous mothers.  When it comes to nervous mothers Maria’s performance of the hysterical Suky running through the hospital corridors escaping from her new born child is a pratfall as precious as it is outrageous.  It provides much needed excitement to a film that for the most part is too slow and considered.

Good performances by Zoe Kazan and Ryan McDonald as Pippa Lee’s children, apparently wiser than their years and certainly smarter their mom.  But that figures, they had a saner mother than she did.  Maybe they just haven’t been through enough to be crazy yet.  Also a brief but wonderful performance by the iconic Julianne Moore as aunt Kat, the understanding older generation that has a few things to learn.

All in all a fun film with high production values and a pretty much squeaky clean lack of sleaze.  Leave the young ones at home to play video games, they are not likely to be interested in this one.

Directed by: Rebecca Miller
Written by: Rebecca Miller (screenplay and book)

Starring: Robin Wright Penn, Alan Arkin and Keanu Reeves

Release: November 27, 2009
MPAA: Rated R for sexual content, brief nudity, some drug material and language
Runtime: 93 minutes
Country: USA 
Language: English
Color: Color