Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009)

Many interesting flicks without big studio marketing bucks behind them struggle to get any sort of distribution, flicker brightly but briefly when discovered, and then are destined to fade into the misty realms of memory. 

This movie written (based on her novel) and directed by Rebecca Miller -- daughter of Arthur -- is a good case in point.   Since 1995, it is her fourth outing as a director of her own work; I have seen two of her three earlier movies, but I am pushed to recall much about them. She had an earlier brief career as an actress in bit parts and is also the co-writer of the screenplay for the rather dreary (and also non-memorable) "Proof" (2005).  Taken with her first career outings in the graphic arts, she is something of a 'renaissance' women, but unlikely to be remembered as one of the cinema greats.  I know it's early days yet since she is still under fifty, but her track record to date doesn't promise any sort of cinema immortality or any deep affinity for the genre.

In this film she has garnered a remarkably starry cast, many of whom have very little to do -- again burning bright in their small parts and then fading into the background.  Stand up Julianne Moore in another lesbian role, Winona Ryder (getting hard to recognize) as the heroine's neurotic friend, Maria Bello as her hyperactive, speed-addicted mother, and the lush-bodied Monica Bellucci as a former wife of Mr. Lee (the always watchable Alan Arkin).  However the movie belongs to Robin Wright (here still billed as Robin Wright Penn) playing Arkin's much younger wife and facing her own midlife crises as the couple downsize to a Connecticut retirement community after his three recent heart attacks. The screenplay focuses on the various traumatic events that have made her the woman she is today with her younger self played by Blake Lively (not really a believable young Wright).  Bored by her new environment, with the height of excitement being pottery classes, and overly concerned with Arkin's health, she finds herself sleep-walking and sleep-stuffing-chocolate-cake-in-her-gob.  She also has a slightly fraught relationship with her two grown children, especially her daughter who appears to hate her -- much as she grew to hate her own mother.

She finds some solace in the company of her neighbour Shirley Knight's ne'er-do-well son, played by a fairly competent Keanu Reeves, with a lifesized head of Jesus tattooed on his chest.  Events come to a head when she discovers her supposedly devoted husband's ongoing affair with Ryder and his subsequent final heart attack.  Part of the film's problems stem from combining the roles of mainly middle-aged players into a coherent whole.  Wright doesn't seem quite old enough to have lasted through the best part of thirty years of marriage (to the extent that for a while I thought she was the stepmother of Arkin's kids), and we are asked to believe that Reeves is some fifteen years younger than she (when in fact he is all of two years older!).  One is never bored in the company of these various characters and their self-absorbed problems, aided by some clever, sharp dialogue, but in the end one wonders if we really care about any of them.  The simple answer is probably 'no'.  
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