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The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

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The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
A grid, 3 wide and 4 high showing portraits of the cast members and descriptive copy in purple boxes with white writing
Promotional film poster
Directed by Rebecca Miller
Produced by Brad Pitt
Lemore Syvan
Written by Rebecca Miller
Starring Robin Wright
Alan Arkin
Maria Bello
Monica Bellucci
Blake Lively
Julianne Moore
Keanu Reeves
Winona Ryder
Cinematography Declan Quinn
Edited by Sabine Hoffmann
Distributed by Screen Media Films
Release dates
  • February 9, 2009 (2009-02-09) (Berlin International Film Festival)
  • November 27, 2009 (2009-11-27) (United States)
Running time 98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2,770,941[1]

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is a 2009 American drama film written and directed by Rebecca Miller. The screenplay is based on her novel of the same title. The film premiered on February 9, 2009, at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival and was shown at the Sydney Film Festival and the Edinburgh Film Festival before opening in the United Kingdom on July 10. Following a showing at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was limited released in the United States on November 27, 2009.[2]


The film chronicles the life of a woman named Pippa Lee, with flashbacks to her tumultuous past. Pippa Sarkissian was the youngest child and only girl in her large Christian family. Her mother Suky (Maria Bello) was a neurotic mother with an obsessive fixation on her daughter's looks. By her teen years, Pippa discovers that her mother takes amphetamines in order to self-medicate her vast mood swings. She has a confrontation with her mother by taking drugs that results in Pippa leaving home and moving in with her aunt and roommate, who are in a lesbian relatioinship. After a time, the aunt discovers Pippa participating in erotic photo sessions with the roommate and her friends and banished from that apartment and goes on to live a bohemian life of drugs and working as an exotic dancer. On a weekend jaunt with like-minded friends, she meets a charismatic publisher named Herb Lee who is 30 years older than she is and a romance develops between the young woman and the older man. The couple marry, have two children and later move into a retirement home in Connecticut. Through her marriage, Pippa has become the "perfect wife": loving, supportive, everything to everyone and no one to herself. The couple grow apart; Herb has an affair with one of Pippa's friends and middle-aged Pippa has encounters with a younger man named Chris. After Herb dies from a heart attack, Pippa finally breaks with her life of subservience and refuses to set up the burial, leaving the details to her children. The film ends with Pippa driving off with Chris.


The film was shot on location in Danbury, New Milford, Stamford, Newtown, and Southbury.


Critical response

The film is rated 67% 'Fresh' on Rotten Tomatoes based on 70 reviews.[3] David Gritten of The Telegraph observed, "Buttressed by a formidable cast . . . Miller navigates her story between sharp satire, dark comedy and wrenching drama. Pippa feels like a character from films of an earlier vintage, including Diary of a Mad Housewife and The Graduate; however she is less of a rebel than "Housewife's" protagonist and more non-conformist than Mrs. Robinson. Hints and traces of a playful, late 1960s mood abound. Yet Miller's film is a triumph. Uniformly well acted, it boasts a psychologically knowing script, clearly written by a smart, assertive human being rather than a software programme."[4]

Philip French of The Observer said, "The humour is forced, the shocking revelations too sudden and not altogether convincing, but it's enjoyable in an uninvolving way."[5]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian rated the film two out of five stars, calling it a "hugely overegged pudding of a film," "indulgent," "complacent," and "a film that is very pleased with itself."[6]

Trevor Johnston of Time Out London rated the film three out of five stars and commented, "No challenge to surmise where all this is heading, but there are pleasures to be had while it takes the scenic route. With the story structure working backwards and forwards at the same time, the lack of tension is no surprise, nor does Miller help herself by flitting through a variety of moods, from period satire, whimsical imagining and character comedy to more sinewy drama. On a scene-by-scene basis, though, it’s classily effective, mainly because of Wright Penn’s skill in nailing the precise tenor of every moment. She’s a great actress, and a subtle one, too. Anyone who can wrestle scenes away from a lovably grouchy Alan Arkin must be on top of their game."[7]

Hannah Forbes Black from Channel 4 rated the film 2½ out of five stars, calling it a "soft-focus, chocolate-box fairytale." She continued, "The whole thing is vaguely reminiscent of post-war domestic dramas aimed at a daytime audience of housewives – like a photo-negative of Brief Encounter ... Miller's self-adapted script is no more strained and compromised than the average book-to-film adaptation, but one wishes that she'd seized this amazing opportunity to take liberties with her own work ... Toured rapidly around Pippa's life, we can see the outline of the traumas and choices that have shaped her personality, but the film doesn't seem to know what it wants to say about any of it."[8]

Darren Amner of Eye For Film rated it three out of five stars and called the script "very wry, funny and emotionally charged."[9]


Alissa Simon of Variety noted, "Cardboard characters and severe problems of tone fatally flaw the awkward satirical relationship drama [that] feels as schizophrenic as its eponymous heroine ... While the film marks a change of pace from the intense seriousness of Miller’s earlier work, she never finds the dark comic edge that would make Pippa more satisfying viewing. Indeed, she never sustains any tone at all. The dialogue teeters from flat comedy to wince-worthy whimsy, with detours through blithe and earnest. Visual style, too, is all over the place ... Period music does a better job of evoking the era than the laughable costumes, hair and makeup."[11]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Durbin, Karen (September 13, 2009). "Dazzling Performances to Gild the Résumés". The New York Times. Retrieved May 25, 2010. 
  3. ^ "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 29, 2009. 
  4. ^ reviewThe Telegraph
  5. ^ reviewThe Observer
  6. ^ reviewThe Guardian
  7. ^ reviewTime Out London
  8. ^ Channel 4 review
  9. ^ reviewEye for Film
  10. ^ reviewThe Hollywood Reporter
  11. ^ reviewVariety

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