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Private for your eyes 

Halifax finally gets to see Rebecca Miller’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, a universal tale that quietly digs into the female experience. We go back to the press conference.

In September of 2009, Robin Wright sat stoically at a table, next to writer-director Rebecca Miller and her co-star Keanu Reeves. There in Toronto to discuss Miller's third film, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, the actor was quiet, unsmiling and still, until she was asked a question. She thought, considered, then exploded into an eloquent response, accompanied by air chops, finger-pointed explanations and, sometimes, a wide smile, like when she said, "It's such a rare opportunity to get a role like this. Lyrically Rebecca is like a poet, without all that dead air. I got to play what resonates inside."

Pippa Lee is the wife of a much older artist (Alan Arkin), who's moved from New York to a retirement community in Connecticut. She's unhappy, starting to break down. The film jumps between present day and 25 years previous to Pippa's teens. Born last to a Catholic family, her manic-depressive mother (Maria Bello) uses her as a dumping ground for her life's dead ends and broken dreams. After a drug-fuelled confrontation, Pippa moves out, sleeping and drugging her way through New York City until she meets Herb Lee (Arkin). The cast also includes Reeves, Winona Ryder and Julianne Moore.

"The germ of this book," said Miller, who adapted the screenplay from her own novel, "came from when I met up with a girl I knew who was a wild teen in New York City. I met her 20 years later and she was really placid, with two kids, her whole style had changed. How does that happen? It's looking back on yourself and are you the same person? It's like Russian dolls, one inside the other."

Having the writer on set was a boon, mostly. "There were moments I'd say, 'Maybe she isn't...' and Rebecca would say, 'Yes she is, actually,'" said Wright, laughing. "You have to trust the visionary."

"One of the nice things for me is that you know what to throw out," said Miller, whose previous films are Personal Velocity and the PEI-shot The Ballad of Jack and Rose. "When you're making a film, it's a war against time and mediocrity. When it's getting to the end of the day, you know deep down what to throw out."

The younger Pippa is played by Blake Lively (Gossip Girl). Wright---she had just dropped the Penn---says that the schedule didn't allow for the actors to compare notes, but "I took one physical trait of hers. She's such a little doe, Blake. Someone would ask her a question, and she would look up and go, 'Huh?'" Wright imitates a bashful-but-coy, eyelash-batting Lively. "And we'd both have squinty-eyed smiles. It let me go into that lightness, that freshness. Even though Pippa had seen it all, it was always new to her."

Wright, who is 44, has accumulated just a few dozen roles in 25 years. Though Pippa appears to be just another bored trophy wife, once you dig into her ---once Wright begins to reveal her---her universality hits hard, just as Wright does in the part of her lifetime.

"It's every woman," she said. "To varying degrees you know we're all crazy---the emotional data starts to have an effect. All of the fabric you've woven starts to unravel. You unwind. You unwind with truth. But how does it manifest? That's the beauty of this role."

Tara Thorne will introduce The Private Lives of Pippa Lee tonight.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Thursday, November 11, 8pm, Carbon Arc at the Khyber, 1588 Barrington Street, 3rd floor, $6

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