12 December 2009

Review: "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee"

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee almost plays like a less intense version of a Woody Allen film. Pippa Lee is a woman who has been over-analyzing her life since she was young, and it seems that every decision she has made can be directly related to her relationship with her mother. Directed by Rebecca Miller, based on her own novel, the film stars Robin Wright (Penn) as Pippa Lee, Alan Arkin as her husband Herb, Gossip Girl's Blake Lively as the young Pippa, Maria Bello as her mother, and Keanu Reeves as a potential love interest. Julianne Moore and Winona Ryder give supporting performances, though I would have preferred to see their roles reversed--even if it would have made a little less sense in the end. The film premiered early in 2009 at the Berlin Film Festival, and after its showing at the Toronto International Film Festival Robin Wright's performance was hailed as one of the best of the year (the early buzz has since become silent). The previews for the film made it look like a chick flick and I had reservations about seeing it. I ended up watching it online and I am glad I saved my money.

From an early age Pippa adored her mother until she was told that her mother's behaviour was heavily aided by pills. As a teenager she leaves home, and moves to New York to stay with her lesbian aunt, whose girlfriend (Julianne Moore) coerces Pippa into posing for some very risque photographs. Her aunt is very upset by this and Pippa is forced to leave. We never really know what happens after that, but one can assume that she has entered a world of drugs and promiscuity. One evening she attends a party at Herb's beach house, and she is instantly attracted to him. It is very awkward to watch the 22 year-old Blake Lively flirt with the 75 year-old Alan Arkin, though I can understand that the director wanted to highlight the age difference. Herb divorces his wife and marries Pippa, they have two children, and in the present they have moved to an retirement community after Herb's third heart attack. Pippa is afraid that he is going to die and she is incredibly unhappy. Pippa's life unfolds through flashbacks, but it is not always clear why certain scenes are relevant.

Robin Wright is wonderful to watch and her narration helps keep the film cohesive, but I had far too many complaints to really enjoy the film. I can understand the need to use Blake Lively in scenes with Pippa's mother, but I believe that the film would have been better served if Robin Wright was the actress when she met Herb. Nothing was said about the age difference and that made the scenes with Alan Arkin that much more disturbing (especially when a naked Blake Lively was lying on top of him). I grew up watching Robin Wright, The Princess Bride is probably the most-watched film of my entire life, and it is a shame that we did not get to see her act alongside Maria Bello or Julianne Moore. The film is predictable and nothing really gets resolved. It left me feeling cheated, but what is worse is that I did not care.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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