Stars for stars’ sake

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

RE­BECCA MILLER, di­rec­tor of the er­ratic Per­sonal Ve­loc­ity and the barmy The Bal­lad of Jack and Rose, hits some­thing like her stride with this am­bi­tious fem­i­nist melo­drama. Based on her own pop­u­lar novel, The Pri­vate Lives of Pippa Lee strug­gles to shake off se­ri­ous prob­lems in tone and cast­ing, but, if a high-minded ver­sion of Pey­ton Place sounds like your thing, then you should def­i­nitely take a look.

Wear­ing the half-mast smile of the per­pet­u­ally dis­ap­pointed, Robin Wright Penn stars as a mid­dle-aged woman who, fol­low­ing up­bring­ing by a phar­ma­co­log­i­cally be­wil­dered mother and dal­liances with var­i­ous schools of Bo­hemia, now lives in a posh es­tate for the el­derly with her much older hus­band (Alan Arkin).

The film jags back­wards and for­wards be­tween the present and Pippa Lee’s ad­ven­tures in the vel­vety 1970s and the co­cainebound 1980s. Af­ter run­ning away from mom (Maria Bello, ex­cel­lent), she set­tles in with a les­bian aunt (Robin Weigert) and her pre­ten­tious lover (Ju­lianne Moore). In the present, a som­nam­bu­la­tory en­counter with a friend’s son (the stars keep com­ing – it’s Keanu Reeves) leads her to con­tem­plate a rash break from her crush­ing sur­round­ings.

Miller does a good job of coun­ter­point­ing Wright Penn’s cur­rent trau­mas with ex­plana­tory and for­ma­tive crises from ear­lier years. The hor­ror of post­war sub­ur­ban con­form­ity has been ad­dressed in many me­dia on many oc­ca­sions, but Miller’s ver­sion of 1970s obliv­ion – yel­low make-up sink­ing into open pores – is par­tic­u­larly stul­ti­fy­ing and op­pres­sive. The film’s jabs at the 1980s are a bit broader, but this re­mains a canny, witty study of con­tem­po­rary dis­con­tents and their ori­gins.

Un­for­tu­nately, the film’s cast­ing is con­sis­tently awry. One can’t help but sus­pect that, thrilled at the will­ing­ness of so many stars to get on board, Miller has been tempted to ham­mer a few too many square pegs into a few too many round holes. Wright Penn is too young for her role and Moore too old for hers, but they seem ideally cast when con­sid­ered along­side Keanu Reeves. (Ei­ther that or the di­a­logue is send­ing us in the wrong di­rec­tion.)

Though he seems to be play­ing the lead’s toy­boy, Reeves is, in fact, sev­eral months older than the youth­ful Robin. Golly, time goes by so fast.

Be­fore she was Robin: Blake Lively as the young Pippa Lee

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