Skip to main content

I wonder if I may be having a very quiet nervous breakdown.


The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
(2009)

Not to be uncharitable, but one wonders how much of a free-pass Rebecca Miller gets on account of her family credentials (Arthur Miller as a father, Daniel Day Lewis as a husband). It’s not that there’s anything particularly bad about her work, but there’s nothing hugely compelling about it either. She assembles a fine cast for Pippa Lee, but it’s never clear what gripped her about the story, which she adapted from her own novel. One might argue that this reflects the dreamy dissonance of the titular character, but I’m less convinced; as many of Miller’s choices seem missteps as they do successes.

Pippa Lee (Robin Wright), dutiful wife of much older publisher Herb (Alan Arkin), finds herself undergoing a restrained nervous breakdown when they move from Manhattan to a Connecticut retirement community. Flashbacks to Pippa’s early life show her struggle with her amphetamine-addicted mother (Maria Bello), her brief stay with an aunt (Deadwood’s Robin Weigert) and her girlfriend (Julianne Moore) before her first encounter with Herb (at which point she’s a bit of a space case). In the present, she finds her relationship with Herb increasingly strained, and learns that she is having somnambulant episodes. She also forms a tentative friendship with a younger neighbour Chris (Keanu Reeves).

This is one of those low-budget melodramas where you’re unsure if it retained your interest because of the starry supporting turns, rather than any distinctive qualities it possesses in its own right. Wright is superb; she underplays and does great work suggesting an interior world that is gradually becoming less and less familiar. Arkin is a consummate scene-stealer, so it’s a compliment to say she holds her own. He makes this patriarch figure likeable in spite of his flaws. Winona Ryder’s supporting turn as a hugely self-involved friend of the couple is hilarious (and a good remind of the actress’ comic chops) while Keanu is in “decent Keanu supporting turn” mode (see Thumbsucker) than his variable leading man duties (also of note, he’s playing a decade younger than he is, and thus significantly junior to Wright, whom he is two years older than). Some of the most affecting scenes are between the two of them. Monica Bellucci has highly memorable cameo.

Most surprising is Blake Lively as the young Pippa, since she my impression of her from the likes of Green Lantern and Savages wasn’t a positive one. She convincingly portrays Pippa’s vulnerability, and the ingénue quality that attracted Herb to her in the first place. Maria Bello’s performance as her deranged mother is intense enough as it is, so Miller’s choices of jump cuts to underline her fractured state is unnecessary and obvious. That’s not to say some of her stylistic choices are strong ones; she shoots the scenes of Pippa’s altered state of consciousness with appropriate subjectivity, which makes (for example) the scene where she visits the convenience store carry all-the-more impact. But she doesn’t seem to know when restraint would be advisable, perhaps as a consequence of having originated the material. Many of the transitions between time frames are overly self-conscious and seem to be shouting “Look at me!” as much as the star casting. Particularly ill-advised is an animated sequence that very nearly pushes the film into the territory of a clueless director trying anything that comes to mind.

In the end, Pippa Lee feels similar to many a mildly-diverting-but-quickly-forgettable indie flick. Any impact relates to the memorable casting rather than resonance held by the material.

***

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

People still talk about Pandapocalypse 2002.

Turning Red (2022) (SPOILERS) Those wags at Pixar, eh? Yes, the most – actually, the only – impressive thing about Turning Red is the four-tiered wordplay of its title. Thirteen-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into a large red panda at emotive moments. She is also, simultaneously, riding the crimson wave for the first time. Further, as a teenager, she characteristically suffers from acute embarrassment (mostly due to the actions of her domineering mother Ming Lee, voiced by Sandra Oh). And finally, of course, Turning Red can be seen diligently spreading communist doctrine left, right and centre. To any political sensibility tuning in to Disney+, basically (so ones with either considerable or zero resistance to woke). Take a guess which of these isn’t getting press in reference to the movie? And by a process of elimination is probably what it it’s really about (you know in the same way most Pixars, as far back as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc . can be given an insi

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

He's not in my pyjamas, is he?

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) (SPOILERS) By rights, Paul Mazursky’s swinging, post-flower-power-gen partner-swap movie ought to have aged terribly. So much of the era’s scene-specific fare has, particularly so when attempting to reflect its reverberations with any degree of serious intent. Perhaps it’s because Mazursky and co-writer Larry Tucker (also of The Monkees , Alex in Wonderland and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! ) maintain a wry distance from their characters’ endeavours, much more on the wavelength of Elliott Gould’s Ted than Robert Culp’s Bob; we know any pretensions towards uninhibited expression can’t end well, but we also know Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice have to learn the hard way.

We could be mauled to death by an interstellar monster!

Star Trek Beyond (2016) (SPOILERS) The odd/even Star Trek failure/success rule seemed to have been cancelled out with the first reboot movie, and then trodden into ground with Into Darkness (which, yes, I quite enjoyed, for all its scandalous deficiencies). Star Trek Beyond gets us back onto more familiar ground, as it’s very identifiably a “lesser” Trek , irrespective of the big bucks and directorial nous thrown at it. This is a Star Trek movie that can happily stand shoulder to shoulder with The Search for Spock and Insurrection , content in the knowledge they make it look good.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998) An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar. Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins , and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch , in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whet

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.