Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

REVIEW | Wright and Wrong: Rebecca Miller's "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee"

By Michael Koresky | Indiewire November 23, 2009 at 3:10AM

One of contemporary cinema's most graceful, taken-for-granted actors, Robin Wright, too long in the shadow of her ex-husband, would seemingly have finally found the perfect leading role in Rebecca Miller's "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee," in which she plays a graceful, taken-for-granted wife and mother. Onscreen, Wright imbues her roles with effortless compassion, which is always just barely peeking out from layers of weariness and insecurity. Her lack of actorly grandstanding has often relegated her to smaller roles, but rather than languish in supporting parts, she thrives, from her one-scene, one-shot wonder in Rodrigo Garcia's "Nine Lives," in which, pregnant and dissatisfied, she comes upon an old flame in a supermarket and runs through a lifetime emotions with the merest flickers in her eyes, to the seemingly thankless estranged-wife role in Shyamalan's "Unbreakable," which in a few scenes she turns into a symphony of regret and doubt. Unfortunately with "Pippa Lee" this most deserving of actresses has found a role in a film that doesn't deserve her.
0

One of contemporary cinema's most graceful, taken-for-granted actors, Robin Wright, too long in the shadow of her ex-husband, would seemingly have finally found the perfect leading role in Rebecca Miller's "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee," in which she plays a graceful, taken-for-granted wife and mother. Onscreen, Wright imbues her roles with effortless compassion, which is always just barely peeking out from layers of weariness and insecurity. Her lack of actorly grandstanding has often relegated her to smaller roles, but rather than languish in supporting parts, she thrives, from her one-scene, one-shot wonder in Rodrigo Garcia's "Nine Lives," in which, pregnant and dissatisfied, she comes upon an old flame in a supermarket and runs through a lifetime emotions with the merest flickers in her eyes, to the seemingly thankless estranged-wife role in Shyamalan's "Unbreakable," which in a few scenes she turns into a symphony of regret and doubt. Unfortunately with "Pippa Lee" this most deserving of actresses has found a role in a film that doesn't deserve her.

"The Private Lives of Pippa Lee"'s heart is in the right place, but it's far too stuck in the conventions and cliches of suburban female liberation narratives to impress as anything other than dutiful and impersonal. Wright plays the titular character, the much younger wife of a successful publisher, Herb (Alan Arkin), who has passively been at her husband's side for decades, even now as he moves to a Connecticut retirement community; her friends (including a weepy Winona Ryder) treat her with dull respect, her grown children (among them a nastily self-righteous Zoe Kazan) ignore her, Herb is grateful for her care but ignorant of her needs. Meanwhile, she remains haunted by the memory of her unbalanced, Dexedrine-addicted mother (Maria Bello, emoting to the rafters again). Naturally, the film charts Pippa's awakening, her realization that she has devoted her life to someone else, and in the process has lost her identity (once troubled, spontaneous, and spunky, as we learn in flashbacks starring Blake Lively as Pippa), something she perhaps can still reclaim--maybe with the help of her neighbor's drifter son, a studly savior played by Keanu Reeves sporting full-torso Jesus body art.

It's that elaborate tattoo, incidentally, that's indicative of a larger problem in the film. Adapted by Miller from her own novel, the film reeks of those eccentric novelistic flourishes that most filmmakers would wisely excise from book to screen, which in addition to Reeves's illustrated chest, includes quirky anecdotes of Pippa being born with a coat of vestigial fur, flashbacks to her experiences as a naughty S&M teen model, and a gratuitous (and clearly truncated) segment with Monica Bellucci as a voluptuous suburban housewife (!) who blows her brains out during an outlandish dinner party. These occasional hiccups of self-conscious idiosyncrasy are matched by Miller's overdetermined visual palette (sterile, white, full of ennui), by-the-book transitions (flashbacks to her childhood are cued by period doo-wop, wouldn't you know?) and misguided stylistic choices, which range from clunky moving-backwards-in-time effects to poorly placed slow-motion, to, seriously, a brief animation fantasy.

Such decisions show not only a certain lack of aesthetic unity and sophistication but also severely detract from what should be the film's unerring focus: Robin Wright. She's perhaps not entirely convincing as a dowdy or dismissible housewife, but the actress brings so much charisma and inner spirit to Pippa that all the other characters orbiting around her just seem false contrivances in comparison, especially Reeves as the loner, the only one who really "gets" Pippa, and Ryder, with her distraught pixie routine. Also Wright's talent and presence naturally makes dialogue like "She is a mystery, an enigma!" and Pippa's own explanation that "Our marriage functions because we will it to" utterly redundant, yet novelist-filmmaker Miller feels the need to spell out every last inner thought and emotion. If only Miller had just trusted Wright's subtly expressive face as her film's only necessary effect.

[An indieWIRE review from Reverse Shot.]

[Michael Koresky is co-founder and editor of Reverse Shot and an editor and staff writer of the Criterion Collection.]

This article is related to: In Theaters, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More