Review: The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

Review: The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

The Secret Lives of Pippa Lee is an interesting anomaly as it’s not a breakout hit but there’s also little bad to say about it. Pippa Lee (Robin Wright) is married to a significantly older man and they’ve just moved to a retirement community; the goal is for Herb (Alan Arkin) to relax after suffering […]


The Secret Lives of Pippa Lee is an interesting anomaly as it’s not a breakout hit but there’s also little bad to say about it.

Pippa Lee (Robin Wright) is married to a significantly older man and they’ve just moved to a retirement community; the goal is for Herb (Alan Arkin) to relax after suffering his third heart attack. They have two children, but their daughter treats Pippa with disdain. Pippa is slowly losing her sense of self, drifting into memories of her youth. The young Pippa (Blake Lively) escaped an addict mother (Maria Bello) that was drowning her daughter in her despair, only to become an experimental free spirit. Meanwhile, the present day Pippa is building a strange friendship with a neighbour’s troubled son (Keanu Reeves).

Based on the novel by Rebecca Miller – who also directed and adapted the story for the screen – the film slides seamlessly between past and present as if simply moving from one room to the next. While this type of triple duty does not always combine for a good film, Miller’s thorough understanding of her complex protagonist allows her to display Pippa’s nuances.

The narrative gets to somewhat of a slow start, but builds momentum as Pippa’s younger self matures and the present Pippa’s life becomes more complicated. The dialogue consists of a lot of one-liners, many of which are playful jabs at other characters; in addition to being funny in themselves, they’re amusing because they are realistically witty. In the end it is the curveballs thrown into Pippa’s life, including unexplained disorder, adultery and a variety of guilt, which makes the story entertaining; but at the same time, these events rarely appear fantastic.

The acting is top-notch. In addition to those mentioned, the cast includes Winona Ryder, Mike Binder, Julianne Moore, Zoe Kazan and Monica Bellucci. While many of the characters often appear somewhat awkward with each other, it serves the strained relationships being presented.

The film definitely succeeds on all fronts, but sadly never delivers the knockout blow that would put it over the top of ordinary.