The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009)

Director Rebecca Miller’s adaptation of her own novel of the same name is one of those quietly poignant, carefully resonant character studies that slowly unfurls over the course of its running time, finally reaching its thematic apotheosis by the final shot. Thanks to Robin Wright Penn’s sturdy, enigmatic performance, we’re parachuted into the ongoing story of Pippa Lee’s life, which has gone from neglected teenager to drug-addicted party girl and finally to dutiful wife to an aging editor living in a retirement community a few decades before her time. It’s a quietly resonant exploration of the consequences of self-sacrifice and leaving one’s identity for others to mold, and Penn is just the right type of subtle actress to carry each scene with aplomb. Additionally, the supporting cast is first-rate: Alan Arkin is believably unpleasant as Wright’s narcissistic husband, while Keanu Reeves brings quiet strength as a neighbor’s wayward adult son, and Winona Ryder tears into her small role with vivid abandon. It’s not the kind of movie that everyone will appreciate because of its thematically fragmented narrative, but folks who enjoy a quietly powerful drama (not unlike “45 Years” or “Moonlight”) will find plenty to appreciate here.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

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