..Victoria Barkley..

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

The movie begins with a house warming party. Pippa (Robin Wright), the trophy wife of a much older Herb (Alan Arkin) on the eve of his retirement, serving each dinner guest to perfection. She is the ultimate wife, mother, friend and hostess, the "rock" everyone turns to in time of need. Charming, and quietly poised, she attends to everyone equally.

We learn that Herb's retirement involved a hefty downsizing, moving to a simpler, smaller home in Connecticut, leaving the social whirl of city life behind. What was meant as a new beginning for the empty nest couple, finally alone together, turns out to be a different kind of venture than either of them had expected. While for Herb, this transition is a moving away from and wrapping up his long career, for Pippa, it is a returning to her old neighborhood and unresolved issues from times gone by. Herb needs to face his own fear of death while Pippa needs to find new meaning. They both have to reinvent themselves.

Sharing her husband's retirement and quiet country life, brings up Pippa's hidden anxieties and cracks begin to show beneath her cool veneer of domestic bliss. As she serenely sets about the project of freeing herself by re-fitting the pieces, we are shown bits of her story – from troubled mom's pet, to rebellious teen, to self-destructive, amorous young adult – the many private threads unfold on screen, adding depth and emotional complexity to her character.

A therapeutic but tainted friendship with a neighbor's adult son (Keanu Reeves) serves as catalyst to a calculated shift allowing for ground rules and alliances to change. Some of Pippa's past is reviewed, while core issues are reassembled into a more workable pattern in this psychologically savvy story.

After a "good enough" changeover, Pippa gets to move forward unimpeded by access baggage while retaining the best from the past. In the process of finding new purpose she stays detached from potentially explosive conflict, and remains unperturbed by internal and external crisis. No, it's not perfect. No, everything isn't resolved. And there is plenty of understated upheaval. However, her willingness to deal with discomfort without falling apart, reducing emotional clutter to its essential components before discarding is a dark farce of mature mirth at its best.

I have found this film both intricate and thought provoking. Writer and director have accomplished offering hope, while painting a tongue-in-cheek picture of a fiftyish woman's complicated makeover. The calm precision with which Pippa steers her way toward clarity is both refreshing for her lack of histrionic behavior and amusingly entertaining. The movie's tone is essentially ironic, aimed at a baby boomer audience.

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Other stories by Victoria Barkley:
A Song and a Sign
Birthday Kirtan
Is Anybody There? – movie review
Real Soul Food
The Gift
Silver Sixpence in her Shoe
Breakfast with Scot – movie review
Sex Drive -- movie review
What Just Happened – movie review
American Teen – movie review
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – movie review
A Message From Mom
A Tale of Two Bunnies
Animal Nature
Into the Wild - movie review
Darshan in the Dark Light of the Moon
Love Never Dies
Green Roofs, Weeds and Wildflowers
Greeting Sunrise
Arctic Tale – movie review
Seasons of Gandhi