Directed by: Tamara Jenkins
Premise: A late middle aged couple (Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti) struggle to get pregnant. When an attempted in vitro fertilization fails, they turn to their niece (Kayli Carter) to donate one of her eggs.
What Works: Private Life is a story of a middle aged couple watching their youth slip away and the anxiety it creates in their lives. The film centers upon a married couple played by Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti who have committed themselves to their careers as hip urban creatives but they have reached a plateau in their professional and personal lives. The story finds the couple trying to conceive a child but they have no success due to their advanced age. At the same time, the couple’s college-age niece begins staying with them. Although the couple adores their niece and vice versa, there are telling moments between them in which the elders are reminded of their age. The couple eventually recruits their niece to donate an egg for another attempt at in vitro fertilization but the vaguely incestuous nature of their plan causes additional anxiety and anger among the extended family. Private Life never spells it out, but the real antagonist of this story is time; Hahn and Giamatti’s characters are running out of it and their efforts to reproduce are less about bringing a child into the world and more about holding onto their youth and ensuring that some piece of themselves goes on after them. Private Life is shot in a stark and raw visual style; the color scheme tends to be grey and barren, much like the central characters. However, Private Life is also very funny albeit in a dark and uncomfortable kind of way. The film deals with heavy and sometimes unpleasant subject matter and the story takes us through the unglamorous medical procedures of in vitro fertilization. The humor makes the material accessible and keeps the characters relatable. Although it is witty, the humor is underscored by the characters’ fear and anxiety which gives the comedy dramatic impact.
What Doesn’t: Private Life is the opposite of a movie like Instant Family in almost every way. Its sense of humor, its style and tone, its sociopolitical setting, and the movie’s ultimate message about parenthood come from a very different place than the kind of mainstream crowd pleasing entertainment seen in Instant Family. That shouldn’t reflect negatively on either film; there’s room enough in the world for both of them. But Private Life may not play for the audience that turns out for films like Instant Family. What Private Life has to say about parenthood and about life in general has a harshness and melancholy that is not in keeping with a Hollywood fantasy.
DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: Private Life is a smart and insightful drama about middle age and the desire to become a parent. The performances by Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti are terrific and mix humor with melancholia.
Episode: #728 (December 9, 2018)