Written and directed by Rebecca Miller, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is the story of a housewife whose perfect life starts to unravel by her memories of the past as she would befriend a man dealing with his own issues. The film explores the life of a woman as she tries to come to terms with her past as her seemingly perfect marriage and life starts to wind down. Starring Robin Wright, Alan Arkin, Maria Bello, Keanu Reeves, Monica Bellucci, Blake Lively, Julianne Moore, Zoe Kazan, Ryan McDonald, and Winona Ryder. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is an engaging although messy film from Rebecca Miller.
Pippa Lee (Robin Wright) is the housewife of publisher Herb Lee (Alan Arkin) as they had just moved to a small town in Connecticut as they celebrate with friend Sam Shapiro (Mike Binder) and his wife Sandra (Winona Ryder). Just as Pippa seems to enjoy her role as a housewife taking care of Herb, things start to unravel by the messes she sees in her home thinking Herb caused all of it. Instead, Pippa traces back to her life as a child where her mother Suky (Maria Bello) was a crazed woman with a troubled amphetamine addiction that eventually took its toll by the time the teenaged Pippa (Blake Lively) decided to leave home. Living with her lesbian aunt Trish (Robin Weigter), she briefly becomes a model for Trish’s photographer girlfriend Kat (Julianne Moore) that featured Pippa in racy positions.
After being kicked out by Trish, Pippa would wander around New York City for a few years until she attends a party with some friends where she would meet Herb. Though Herb is married to a beautiful Italian woman named Gigi (Monica Bellucci), the two hit it off as Pippa finds someone in Herb she can be loyal to as they would later have two kids. Years later as the two live a comfortable life, Pippa’s persona starts to unravel after discovering who has been making a mess in her home. Meanwhile, her neighbor’s son Chris (Keanu Reeves) has just move in as the two become friends as he wonders about her behavior. Realizing she’s starting to have a nervous breakdown, Pippa decides to take control only to discover that not everything around her is going well at all.
The film is an exploration of a woman recalling her past just as her life as a helpful housewife starts to come undone through secrets and the fear that she might become her mother. Throughout her journey, this woman would endure the troubled chaos of her neurotic mother as well as trying to find a place where she can feel like she’s at home. Though things seem fine once she meets this much older gentleman, a breakdown gives in as she finds a friend in a man that has his own problems with the world. It’s a story that is engrossing in the exploration of a woman who would later unravel by the events of her past. It’s just that Rebecca Miller draws it out too much to the point that the story becomes a total mess.
Miller’s approach to the screenplay, that is based on her own book, is creating a narrative that moves back and forth that features a reflective narration told through Pippa’s perspective. While the narrative device is effective, it tends to linger too long on the segments of Pippa’s past where Pippa is trying to figure out what happens. While there’s a lot of interesting moments, the moments where Miller tries to infuse humor in these stories feels forced and out-of-place with the story. The segment of Pippa in the present time is a bit more interesting in the way Miller tries to figure out how she’s breaking down while making some discoveries about herself and her life as a friend of hers is also starting to unravel. It’s an intriguing story but doesn’t do enough to create a narrative that isn’t all over the place.
Miller’s direction is pretty stylish in the way she presents a lot of the film’s different period settings. Notably the scenes in the 1960s and 1970s to explore the young Pippa’s life as there’s a sense of style where things feel a bit exaggerated and quirky. By the time the story moves into the 1980s, style is still evident but becomes more restrained once Pippa’s life starts to become less crazy as she would become an adult. The compositions become more straightforward and also claustrophobic as it’s Miller wanting to emphasize the world where Pippa starts to lose control. A lot of it works though there’s scenes of fantasy where it doesn’t fit in with that portion of the film. Despite some wonderful moments in underplaying the drama and framing the actors to play out what’s happening. Miller’s film unfortunately falls short due to its emphasis to its uneven story and its attempts to draw out this woman’s trouble life into something grander.
Cinematographer Declan Quinn does excellent work with the film‘s very vibrant and colorful cinematography for the scenes in the 1960s and 1970s while utilizing more straightforward palettes for the scenes of the 1980s and present scenes despite the exaggerated fantasy scenes in the present segment. Editor Sabine Hoffman does superb work with the editing to play with the film‘s structure and create unique montages for Kat‘s photo material that the young Pippa takes part of. Production designer Michael Shaw and set decorator Cherish Magennis do great work with the set pieces created to emphasize the different places and periods that Pippa would encounter to play up her evolution.
Costume designer Jennifer von Mayrhauser does a wonderful job with the costumes that also plays up the different periods for Pippa in her evolution from more stylish clothes of the 70s and 80s to more casual clothes in the present. Sound editor Sarah Gaines does nice work with the sound to play up the party scenes that Pippa explores early to the more sparse intimacy of her time with Chris. The film’s music score by Michael Rohatyn is a pretty good for its low-key string orchestra and somber pieces to play up the drama in the film. Music supervisor Linda Cohen creates a soundtrack that is a mixture of music from pop and folk along with cuts by Dusty Springfield, Lucinda Williams, and a couple of ambient pieces from Brian Eno.
The casting by Cindy Tolan is terrific for the ensemble that is created as it would include small roles from Ryan McDonald and Zoe Kazan as Herb and Pippa’s adult children in Ben and Grace, respectively, along with Shirley Knight as Chris’ mother Dot, Robin Weigert as Pippa’s aunt Trish, Julianne Moore as Trish’s photographer girlfriend Kat, and Madeline McNulty as the 7-year old Pippa. Other notable small roles include Mike Binder as Herb’s writer friend Sam who has feelings for Pippa as well as Monica Bellucci as Herb’s vibrant Italian wife Gigi. Maria Bello is alright as Pippa’s mother Suky in the way she expresses a woman who is at the grips of addiction though Bello tends to overact some of the film’s emotional moments by going over the top. Winona Ryder is very good as Sam’s wife Sandra who is trying to deal with her failing marriage as she starts to break down and go to Pippa for help.
Blake Lively is really good as the young Pippa as a young woman trying to deal with her troubled life while finding solace in Herb. Keanu Reeves is superb as the very quiet Chris who becomes Pippa’s friend by helping her deal with her impending breakdown. Alan Arkin is excellent as Pippa’s husband Herb who tries to deal with her unraveling while is shown to be a very tender man who cares for Pippa in her evolution. Finally, there’s Robin Wright as the adult Pippa Lee as Wright gives an entrancing performance as a woman seemingly lost in her troubled state. Notably as Wright starts off as this calm and kind woman who slowly starts to lose herself as she tries to come to terms with everything around her.
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is a decent but very uneven film from Rebecca Miller despite a great lead performance from Robin Wright. Despite an interesting premise and a superb supporting cast, it’s a film that falls flat due to a script that tries to do a lot and leave very little. Particularly as its exploration of a woman unraveling could’ve been very interesting but gets lost due to its over-stylized approach to the story. In the end, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is a disappointing film from Rebecca Miller.
Rebecca Miller Films: (Angela) - Personal Velocity: Three Portraits - The Ballad of Jack & Rose - Maggie's Plan - Arthur Miller: Writer
© thevoid99 2012
I would really want to see the movie it has great story and amazing cast, I'm disappointed it's messy, I hate it when the films have great ideas and actors in them, yet for some reason unravel in the process. Nontheless I may give it a go soon. Great review!
Being someone who had seen some of Rebecca Miller's work. I had certain expectations that I wanted from her. Unfortunately, I was pretty unsatisfied with the whole thing despite some excellent performances. I think Personal Velocity remains her best work to date.
Though I agree some parts of the movie was great, including Blake Lively. But as you said, it felt uneven. (Spoiler!) It's not really about setting herself free, since her husband died.
@Andina-Exactly. I thought there was too much story about her past and not enough about her present life which was very unsatisfying for me from a narrative point of view.
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