Supposedly in Hollywood the minute a woman reaches the age of 40 her movie collateral bottoms out and she is no longer viable for leading roles, relegated to supporting status usually in bad rom-coms starring Kate Hudson or overwrought melodramas worthy of the Hallmark channel. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee smashes these conventions in an intelligent, slightly off-centre examination of family and relationships and how these relationships can mould us in to people others expect us to be rather than the people we actually are. Robin Wright Penn heads up an all star cast in a movie that gets things so right that even Keanu Reeves doesn't suck. Whoa.
Penn is outstanding as the slightly ethereal Pippa Lee, a seemingly perfect person in the eyes of almost all around her. Of course the truth is that Pippa wasn't always such a model wife, friend and confidante and a series of events triggered by a decision by her elderly husband (Alan Arkin), to sell up and move them to a quiet retirement resort force her to revisit her past and reconcile the person she was in her youth with the person she has seemingly become now.
That The Private Lives of Pippa Lee works is a credit to Rebecca Miller's writing and directing skills. Deftly avoiding melodrama by painting a series of real, flawed characters rather than cardboard cyphers, the characters here are real, even if the world they inhabit is slightly off-centre. The actors who portray them are also spot-on, even a scenery chewing Winona Ryder as Pippa's insecure and self-obsessed friend is just absurd enough to provide comic relief without trashing the tone.
What perhaps let the movie down was the flaw of many of these movies; unnecessary narration. Pippa's voice over carries us through a series of flashbacks to her childhood and beyond and it is probably the one cliché from this genre of movie that slips it's way in and while it may help clarify things I can't help but think there could have been a way to work without it, that and a bizarre animated sequence that comes out of left-field.
Overall The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is a warm, intelligent and surprisingly funny examination of life and relationships and proves that not only is it possible to create strong central roles for middle-aged women, but also a family drama that is worth everyone's time.
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