Film Review: PRIVATE LIFE (USA 2018) ***

An author (Hahn) is undergoing multiple fertility therapies to get pregnant, putting her relationship with her husband (Giamatti) on edge.


Tamara Jenkins

PRIVATE LIFE is a Netflix original movie which normally means that the main studios will not touch the film.  The likely reason is the ‘difficult’ theme of the film, about the trauma a couple goes through in order to have a child of their own.  So desperate they are, that they try two options simultaneously – adoption and getting an egg donor.

Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, her film begins as a comedy and a very sly and deadpan one at that.  As the film progresses and fertilization attempts fail, drama sets in and the comedy slowly gives way to a more serious film.

Richard (Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) are a childless middle-aged couple desperately trying to have a child.  After multiple failed attempts at artificial insemination they attempt in vitro fertilization where they learn that Richard has a blockage that is not letting him produce sperm forcing him to choose a quick surgery and go $10,000 dollars in debt to his brother Charlie (John Carroll Lynch) and Charlie’s wife Cynthia (Molly Shannon).  At the same time they are also attempting to adopt a child after having previously being matched with a pregnant teenager from Little Rock who was looking to give up her child and then stopped contacting them.

The drama continues as the plot thickens.  While still  maintaining a it of humour, the funny bits slowly fade away.  The IVF fails.  Their doctor, Dr. Dordick (Denis O’Hare who can be quite hilarious as well)  floats the idea of using a donor egg to inseminate Rachel which would raise their chances of success from 4 to 65 percent.  Rachel is initially vehemently against the idea, but slowly begins to contemplate it with Richard’s encouragement.

Into the picture arrives Cynthia’s 25 year old daughter, Sadie (beautifully played by Kayli Carter), who meanwhile decides to leave her college writing program to finish in absentia.  Sadie goes to live with Richard and Rachel, with whom she is already very close.  Rachel, who struggled with the idea of an unknown egg donor, decides that she wants to ask Sadie for her eggs. To their surprise Sadie quickly agrees, both because she loves Richard and Rachel and because she thinks the egg donation will bring meaning to her life.

Giamatti and Hahn are two actors that are comfortable with both comedy and drama.  Their transition to drama is therefore credible.  Comedienne Molly Shannon ditches her funny personality playing a dislikable opinionated mother,  Teen actress Kayli Carter who seems to be doing Saoirse Ronan is not half bad either.

Jenkins’ film at the end, the film clocking a full 120 minutes, is quite different from what is expected at the start.  In the same way, her characters change as well, i.e. there is quite a bit of character development.  Many of the characters develop for the better, which makes for one of the film’s greater pleasures.

Jenkins loves to poke fun at males.  Richard has one testicle.  Richard has a sperm blockage.  Still PRIVATE LIFE is an intelligent though more female oriented drama.