The Fairer Six
Big-Name Females Make It a Victorious Return for Hollywood Sisterhood
by John Millar
Just when you began to think Hollywood had forgotten how to shape a movie in which the focus was women, along comes this offbeat yet delightful drama.
Written and directed by Rebecca Miller, the partner of Daniel Day Lewis, The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee features perhaps the finest female ensemble you'll see this year.
Robin Wright Penn heads a strong cast that includes Monica Bellucci, Julianne Moore, Maria Bello, Winona Ryder and Shirley Knight.
Mrs Sean Penn stars as the title character, a woman who has just hit the big five-oh and who appears to be the perfect domestic goddess, a model wife, mother and dinner-party hostess.
She's married to publisher Herb (Alan Arkin), who is 30 years her senior. But they appear to be in love and content.
Pippa and Herb have just moved house, from their big, luxurious city dwelling to a retirement community in Connecticut.
The reason for this downsizing is that Herb has survived a series of heart attacks.
But while Herb fears that he might start losing his marbles, it is the perfect wife and mom who gradually slips towards a nervous breakdown.
One of the indicators that all is not as well as it seems comes when Pippa discovers to her shock that she's started raiding the fridge while sleepwalking.
Soon after settling into their new, chill-out lifestyle, we see, through an impressive series of flashbacks, that Pippa has been papering over the not inconsiderable cracks in her past.
We learn that she had a troubled childhood, largely due to the fact that her mother - played by Maria Bello in great form - was a pill-popper who suffered dramatic mood swings.
After doing a runner from the family home, our heroine entered hippy society and had encounters with kinky sex and suicide.
There is more than enough angst in her shady past to leave a mark on anyone.
The actresses at the centre of all this turn in terrific performances. Robin Wright Penn is particularly effective at making the audience really care about what happens to her character. There is also what might turn out to be a cameo comeback from Winona Ryder.
On the basis of Winona's portrayal of a family friend who turns out to have an unexpected impact on Pippa's life, she may just be heading for a second chance at A-list stardom.
Another pleasant surprise is Keanu Reeves as a tattooed drifter with whom Pippa makes contact. Too often Reeves has appeared wooden on screen but here he actually manages to create a fullfleshed out and interesting character.
But what's most impressive about The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee is the smooth manner with which director/writer Miller brings all the elements and various time zones together to present an unconventional but satisfying love story.