Coming from something of a smothered childhood, the fifty-year-old Pippa Lee finds herself in an idyllic position in life, albeit on a merely superfluous level. Her husband, one of the last great publishers, and thirty years her senior, has cast a long shadow in the twilight of her life, but Pippa is happy to live her life in the shade, holding dinner parties, aiding her powerful husband and playing the part someone else has carved for her in her life.
The big change comes when Pippa (Robin Wright Penn) and the aging Herb (Alan Arkin) move into a retirement home. The cracks that have been plastered over for almost the entirety of Pippa’s life begin to show with this move, and Pippa falls apart with startling rapidity. This leads her to confide in her neighbour’s son, Chris (Keanu Reeves), and begin telling the tale of the titular lives, plural, of Pippa Lee.
Occurring over a number of decades, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee are an intriguing package of the surreal, comic and emotive. As Pippa grows up, you are introduced to the somewhat tragic mother figure (Maria Bello), who’s scatty, maniacal life becomes too much for the teenaged Pippa (Blake Lively), causing her to run away from home into the arms of her aunt, who’s life is even stranger than her mothers. The pairing of Pippa’s Aunt, Trish (Robin Weigert) and her lesbian girlfriend Kat (Julianne Moore) are amongst the funniest in the film, as their S&M business offers a bright interlude from the oft miserable chaos of Pippa’s life. During Pippa’s breakdown, the comedy continues, as she begins sleepwalking into a number of very odd situations and activities.
Pippa Lee is shown in so many lights, and her assertion that she is an interesting person is borne out by the various trials and challenges the film brings to the fore. The movement through the ages is helped by a number of eccentric wardrobe choices that will no doubt have you shying away from the screen in disgust as you realize you once had a very similar blouse or hair-do. Similarly, the score reflects the ages of Pippa Lee particularly well, and evokes the decades well.
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee has a quiet story to tell, and it tells is with a combination of comedy, misery and good cheer. It will touch a number of people for whom the tale rings true, and even if it doesn’t, the completeness and economy with which it’s told will endear Pippa Lee to many more.