It may come as a shock to you who’ve landed here googling a certain handsome Californian, but I occasionally do watch movies not starring Jeremy Renner. Last Monday, for example, I went to see a film whose printed appearance in book form I had studiously managed to avoid for some time: The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, written, adapted for the screen and directed by Rebecca Miller. On Amazon, a reviewer writes that she actually picked up the book as an airplane read, intrigued by the back cover about a woman and a retirement community… those points being exactly what turned me away when I had the novel in my hands at the bookstore. Who wants to read another story about some middle-aged woman finding herself, and all that surrounded by old people?!
In all honesty, though, I had already forgotten all that when a couple of weeks ago, a German women’s magazine was giving away tickets to a sneak preview in my town. You can tell by this how slow the wheels of moviedom turn in this country; in the U.S., Pippa has been available on DVD for some time. The screening took place at an artsy, slightly off-the-main-drag theater, quite appropriate for a film that is so quietly enjoyable. It stars the lovely Robin Wright (then still married to Sean Penn) as Pippa, who moves into a Connecticut senior citizen residence to that her much older husband can finally enjoy retirement from the hectic world of publishing. But Herb (Alan Arkin) feels restless, and as her children are grown, Pippa soon loses her sense of purpose as she finds herself increasingly alone. While she struggles to overcome the demons of her past, she provides emotional counseling to neighbors and friends and begins a reluctant affair with the newly divorced son of her next-door neighbor (underrated and still sexy at 10 years’ his character’s senior: Keanu Reeves!). The movie co-stars Maria Bello as Pippa’s over-the-top mother who fights her depression with drugs, Monica Bellucci as Herb’s vivacious second wife, Gigi, and Winona Ryder as the weepy poetess on the edge of a nervous breakdown who carries on an affair with Pippa’s husband.
Yes, undoubtedly this is a chick flick, but one that even I who have little patience for romantic nonsense thoroughly enjoyed, as did the friend I invited along. My biggest grievance is that almost all along the way, the film takes its time, fleshing out characters and situations, until the very end, when suddenly, the conclusion is hurried along as if the audience should have known all along that this was the inevitable outcome. I hope that Ms. Miller didn’t simply run out of ideas as to how to end her book, so perhaps reading the actual novel might leave one more satisfied.