Film Review: The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

16 Jun

*****

What is it that holds relationships, and in particular marriages, together? Love? Devotion? Routine? For Pippa Lee, the heroine at the centre of Rebecca Miller’s life-affirming new film The Private Lives of Pippa Lee the answer would seem to be “all of the above, with a side helping of luck.”

Opening in present-day America, somewhere in the suburbs of a genteel retirement community, Pippa Lee (Robin Wright Penn) and her older husband Herb (Alan Arkin) appear to be the perfect couple.

With Pippa happily agreeing to her husband’s decision to sell their city property and move to their new location, it takes a chance comment to trigger Pippa’s memories of her troubled past, leading her to wonder quite how she ended up in her current role of doting wife and mother.

Flashing back to Pippa’s birth and the horrified reaction from her mother Suky (a blisteringly good Maria Bello) to her baby’s “fur”, the young girl’s upbringing is detailed over the course of the film.

Watching Suky consume industrial strength “thyroid tablets” and suffer never ending mood swings, the teenage Pippa (Blake Lively) leaves home for new adventures, encountering her aunt Trish (Deadwood’s Robin Weigert) and her roommate Kat (Julianne Moore) before going on to meet her future husband, Herb, and his disturbed wife Gigi (Monica Belluci).

If it’s an all star cast you want, this film has them in spades, with Keanu Reeves also popping up as the troubled son of Pippa’s neighbours and Winona Ryder, continuing her the Lazarus-like return to the Hollywood fold after last month’s Star Trek,  as family friend Sandra.

Thankfully the cast are merely the icing on the cake here, the smart script weaving humour and tragedy together to produce something that should appeal to both chick flick fans and those who like a little bit more substance to their films.

Wright Penn is engaging as Pippa, her uncanny resemblance to Julie Christie startling at times. Thanks to the use of an unobtrusive voiceover, Wright Penn is present even in flashback, Miller’s impressive directorial style even reuniting the older Pippa with a now dead character at one point without making it appear overly tricksy.

While there are echoes of 2008’s Revolutionary Road in this attempt to dissect the truth behind the American dream, Pippa Lee is the better film, peeling away the facade with greater skill and offering a far more rewarding journey for the viewer to follow.

This is definitely a trip worth taking.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee premieres at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on Thursday 18 June and opens around the UK on 10 July 2009.

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