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The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

November 30, 2009  |  12:35pm
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
Release Date: Nov. 27 (limited)
Director/Writer: Rebecca Miller
Cinematographer: Declan Quinn
Starring: Alan Arkin, Robin Wright Penn, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Maria Bello, Blake Lively
Studio/Run Time: Screen Media Films/98 mins.

In The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Rebecca Miller adapts her own novel of the same name in order to tell the overly melodramatic story of its title character’s life.  As she’s grown older, Lee and her husband have slowly been breaking down but in order to understand Lee’s current situation, we have to start at the very beginning of her life and learn about what it’s taken to end up in a loveless marriage with a much older man.  At least, that’s what Lee tells us in one of many, many voice-over moments since the movie goes deep into Lee’s first-person point of view and comes out … well, probably a fair amount worse because of it.

This bifurcated plotline is an attempt to contrast the dullness of Lee’s current bourgeois existence with what she used to be. Lee’s husband fell in love with her because she was such a free spirit, running away from home at a young age to live with her lesbian aunt, then becoming embroiled in a light S&M pornography ring and eventually bottoming out as a sometime dancer, full-time drug addict. It’s a somewhat fascinating tale, even if it suffers from the Forrest Gump-like tendency to reduce life to no more than a series of highs and lows. It’s not a new story, but it’s relatively well-told and frequently engaging despite some wooden characters and no surprises in sight. 

But the movie’s schizophrenic form does more than just thematically link with Lee’s (and her mother’s) mental issues, it also emphasizes how very dull not just her current life is, but also the story of what’s happening in it. It’s a lot of sitting around tables and arguing in a way that’s sadly reminiscent of a Lifetime made-for-TV movie than a meaningful feature. Miller is no Ingmar Bergman or Woody Allen, and her attempts to turn Lee’s story into high drama fall extremely flat. This isn’t helped by a number of two-dimensional characters and some frequently dire acting—and not all of it is from Keanu Reeves. 

Pippa Lee’s prestige-y attempts at greater meaning end up killing the movie, keeping it from having too much fun or pulling out more depth from its characters. At one and a half hours long the movie still feels either horribly incomplete, due to missing emotional development, or extremely lengthy, due to how little there is to jump an audience away from what it already assumes. In either case, the only person left surprised as the credits roll and Lee rides off into the sunset with the man of her dreams is Lee herself. The rest of us could’ve left halfway through and told you that’s exactly how the film would end. 

Watch The Private Lives of Pippa Lee  trailer:

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