Robin Wright Penn’s incredible beauty and her headline-provoking marriage to Sean Penn have tended to distract attention from what a great actress she is. If your image of her is still stuck at her roles as fairy-tale heroine Buttercup in The Princess Bride or as love interest Jenny in Forrest Gump, then her latest movie will be a revelation.
In The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, directed from her own novel by Rebecca Miller (daughter of legendary playwright Arthur Miller and wife of Daniel Day-Lewis), Wright Penn gives a subtle and soulful performance as a longtime wife and mother belatedly seeking to find herself in middle age.
When the movie opens Pippa has just moved to a retirement community with her much older husband, publisher Herb (another great, scene-stealing performance from a typically wry Alan Arkin). We find out how she got here in a series of flashbacks, narrated by Pippa herself, which show her progress from an awkward childhood as the daughter of a pill-popping desperate housewife of a mother (Maria Bello) and a wild-child youth (during which she’s played by Gossip Girl‘s Blake Lively) featuring kinky S&M lesbian photo sessions with Julianne Moore’s photographer and copious drug-taking, to the calm of her marriage to Herb.
Clearly, though, things are now very much amiss with Pippa’s psyche: she’s sleepwalking and smoking and generally unravelling. She finds solace of sorts, however, in her friendship with the similarly flaky, “half-baked” son of a neighbour (who else but Keanu Reeves) and slowly puts her life back together, albeit on a different track.
Watching The Private Lives of Pippa Lee won’t change your own life, you might find it overly glossy and indulgent, but the fine cast (there are striking turns, too, from Winona Ryder as Pippa’s skittery friend and Monica Bellucci as Herb’s first wife) and Miller’s sharply observed and often very funny script make this a welcome antidote this week to Brüno’s puerile antics.
On general release from 10th July.
To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.