Friday, November 20, 2009

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (Rebecca Miller)

Next Friday, November 27, sees the release of The Private Lives of Pippa Lee in theatres, written and directed by Rebecca "Hey Look At Me My Dad Wrote The Crucible So I Wanna Be A Writer Too" Miller. I'd like to say that I did extensive research on the film and timed this review to perfectly coincide with its release, but in fact I'm just incredibly lucky. It stars Robin Wright-Penn, Keanu Reeves (we share the same birthday, just yeeeaaaaars apart), Monica Bellucci, and Blake Lively(!), and is adapted from a novel by the same name, written by—wait, this can't be right—Rebecca Miller? Huh, so she's adapting her own novel? Wonder how that's gonna turn out. Wikipedia doesn't even list her as an author, or TPLOPL as anything other than a film, for that matter. Curiouser and curiouser. Well, let's not judge until we've at least seen the trailer, shall we? Back yet? I'll wait {thumb twiddling}. Alright, what'd you think? Yeah, same here.


Pippa Lee is a middle-aged woman who is forced to move into a retirement village after her much older husband suffers a series of heart attacks. While the new living situation isn't ideal for Pippa, she finds comfort in the fact that she has now regained her youth in a way, being the youngest resident of the village by at least a decade. Content with the idea that the adjustment to the house will just take time, she begins to settle into her new life. One morning, however, Pippa wakes up and discovers a chocolate cake on the kitchen table, sliced up and served on several plates. A few mornings later, she finds a dirty frying pan in the sink and eggshells on the counter. Thinking that her aging husband is growing senile, making himself meals in the dark, she installs a security camera in the home. Unfortunately for Pippa, it's not her husband that has the problem: Pippa has been sleepwalking.

Here the book jumps back four decades or so, to the point in Pippa's childhood where she says she first began sleepwalking. The book doesn't exactly make it clear how or why this started, or how or why it specifically ended, but it seems more like a writing tool anyway, geared as a transitional element to bring the reader back to what I like to refer as Pippa's White Oleander period. She has a terrible relationship with her mother, a woman so hopped up on diet pills she can hardly stop talking. She begins seeing an older man, taking drugs, moving from one bad situation to another. It's all very dramatic, I promise. I don't want to ruin the whole book/movie/traveling cliche circus for you, so I'll just get right down to it: this book is okay. It's about as okay as you can get. It's not fantastic, but it isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. It's really just okay. I'll expound.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee starts out as a serious piece about the problems a middle-aged woman faces when her older husband is on the verge of death. She doesn't want to watch him die, but loves him too much to even consider leaving him. It's fresh, compelling, and a great idea for a novel. Then it jumps back to Pippa's teenage years, and it's sex this, drugs that, bad situation over here, terrible life choice over there, meet the future husband and fall in love. There's no real suspense or sense of excitement about it, because you know it's all going to work out just fine. In the beginning of the novel, middle-aged Pippa is a happy, well-adjusted housewife, so we know where her life is going. Rebecca Miller might as well have written, "Well let's just see how she got here, in case you're curious." It's interesting, it's well-written, but it doesn't really drag the reader in at all. Everything is too neat and tidy. I'm not really giving anything away by saying this, but I hated the ending of the book because it wasn't a book ending, it was a movie script ending. Everything was all cleaned up and the loose ends were tied and every little issue became resolved within the last ten pages. Then, looking back, I realized it fit, since the rest of the novel wasn't really a novel, it was a prose film. Again, it wasn't bad. I wouldn't go around saying this book is terrible. It just wasn't all that great, either.

Apparently, Rebecca Miller has done this before. Her first film, Personal Velocity, was adapted from her first book, a collection of short stories. I'm sure the woman is a fantastic screenwriter and director—although that trailer looks like garbage, honestly, so who knows, maybe she's not—but I don't see the need for a novel and a film, within a year of each other. Does she think that publishing the novel first gives her more credibility? Can she not decide which she wants to focus on? Remember when you were little, and your favorite movie would come out, and there'd be a companion book that would come out at the same time, and it was crap because the studio had it written just to make some more money? That's what this feels like. I like her style of writing, I think the voice is good because it's clean and well-suited for narrative. I think she does a very good job at creating characters and making them real. I also think she's not a very good storyteller, though, and could have written a fantastic novel if she kept Pippa in the retirement village the whole time. That might not have made a very interesting movie, though...


The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
by Rebecca Miller

She's really lucky that she's so good at characterization, or else this score would have been much lower. Like I said before, the entire middle portion of the book was a cheap White Oleander knockoff. I'm sick of wayward girls getting into trouble because they lack an adequate mother figure.

I think that this could have been a great book, and just wasn't, almost by accident. It's adequate. Read it if you like, I wont stop you. Maybe you'll love it. You might as well just go see the movie, though.

I enjoyed reading this book while I was reading it. It has a voice that's easy to follow, and is never heavy handed in its themes. I realized once I'd finished that it read so easily because there was no real substance, so there's that, but it's not a terrible book. It's okay. I guess.


If I'm flipping through the channels a year from now and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is on TBS, I'll probably watch it, because I like Robin Wright-Penn and Blake Lively. I wouldn't pay to go see it, though. If any of you do check it out next weekend, let me know how it is. Otherwise, keep reading, Genoshans!

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