Writer, director explores life's changes in 'Pippa'
by Kevin Walker
For Rebecca Miller it's impossible to pinpoint the exact source for the characters and situations in her stories.
"It's a lot like cooking a meal that you make up as you go," said Miller, writer and director of "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee." "It's hard to go back and say exactly what was in the recipe."
There's certainly a lot going into the pot with "Pippa," which is out on DVD this week.
The title character (Robin Wright in a great performance) is a woman approaching 50. She's married to a much older man who, after suffering three heart attacks, moves with her to a retirement community in Connecticut. Pippa develops a sleeping disorder, finds out her husband might be cheating (with someone younger than her), starts to remember her wild past (which included an abusive mom) and meets a troubled-but-sensitive convenience store clerk.
Miller, daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and wife of Daniel Day-Lewis, also wrote the novel that inspired the movie. She spoke recently about the film from her home in Ireland.
The idea for Pippa partially came from a friend Miller came across who had "completely transformed" from her younger years. "I was struck by this idea that sometimes in life we completely change ourselves," Miller said. That shows throughout the film, as the young, hard-partying Pippa (played by Blake Lively) bears little resemblance to the serene older woman who makes a mean butterfly lamb.
The film is something of a midlife crisis movie for women. Miller said she wanted to make a film about "forgiveness and acceptance," even though Pippa is emotionally abused by her mother, taken advantage of by a friend of her aunt and betrayed by her best friend.
"We live in a culture with talk shows where someone is expected to cry in every interview about their lives," Miller said. "This movie is about a person taking responsibility for herself. Pippa is not the sort of person who sees herself as a victim. That is one of the things that really attracted me to her as a character."
In addition to Wright's work, Keanu Reeves - as the convenience store clerk - delivers a quiet, subtle performance. Miller said Reeves is "a very committed, humble actor, with a lot of openness to ideas." She said she helped him with his performance by creating a "trusting environment."
"That was very important to him. That's the sort of atmosphere I like to create, one where actors feel free to take chances."
Miller specializes in smaller films, including "Personal Velocity: Three Portraits," "The Ballad of Jack and Rose" and "Angela." Getting such films made has become more difficult as the years have passed, she said.
"It's a tough time for independent movies," said Miller. "There is more on an audience for independent or alternative films as time passes and more people become film literate. But the means of reaching them are shrinking. We've seen so many distribution companies just disappear.
"It's a real risk for a company to distribute a movie like this. I feel fortunate that people are still talking about this film and about Robin's performance."