Robin Wright shines as 'Pippa Lee'

LIZ BRAUN - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:38 AM ET

Let's not be afraid to call a chick flick a chick flick.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee concerns relationships and has no robots or special effects, so it must be for the thinking half of the population. Ergo: Chick flick.

Unlike most "women's films" which leave you at the altar promising to love, honour and obey, and in a white poufy dress, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is all about grown ups and third acts in life. It's a different kind of coming-of-age movie.

Robin Wright Penn carries the film as Pippa, a middle-aged woman described by everyone who knows her as perfect. Pippa is the wife of a much-older man (Alan Arkin), and his health has forced them from a New York flat to a Connecticut retirement community.

Pippa is at loose ends. Her two children are grown up. She's isolated from the social life she once led and she's very worried about her husband -- either their condo has been vandalized or there's been some sleepwalking going on. Is he getting senile? Who left a sock in the fridge?

Pippa begins to think a lot about the past. In flashback we meet her crazed mother (Maria Bello), her beloved aunt and her own bid for freedom; here is Pippa as a young woman (played by Blake Lively), leaving home for good at 15 and meeting her future husband while he's still married to someone else. Cue the sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll of the '60s.

It's quite a picture. This is a very different Pippa from the quiet, mature woman introduced at the start of the movie. That Pippa, meanwhile, is getting bored in Connecticut, and fast, but the arrival of a new neighbour (Keanu Reeves) makes life suddenly more interesting. There are plenty of surprises left, it seems. Pippa can begin to retire her role as family anchor, and move on.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is like a modern sequel to Sleeping Beauty -- in this instalment, we find out what life is like once the heroine finally wakes up from that long, long sleep. And takes a good look around.

Based on the novel by Rebecca Miller (and directed by Miller), The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is a bracing mix of comedy and tragedy that's bursting at the seams with talent. Maria Bello is superb as Pippa's mother; thanks to the script, no doubt, the smallest roles are filled by such A-listers as Julianne Moore and Monica Bellucci. The movie is smart, easy to look at and so well done that you'll willingly suspend your disbelief long enough to accept Lively as a youthful version of Penn. You will. Yes.

And Penn is the best thing about the movie. Her ability to convey Pippa's inner life is astounding. With The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, it's as if someone finally handed her a script worthy of her talents. Lucky for the rest of us.

(This film is rated 14-A)


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