Private Life Review

It’s unfortunate that not every film or TV show involving close, interpersonal relationships has a Tamara Jenkins in its writing room. Although she’s only made two films in the last 12 years, Jenkins demonstrates an exceptional talent for creating honest drama around ordinary, conceivable hardships. In these easily relatable scenarios, she uncovers the moments of helplessness, humor and poignancy we can experience in any given day.

In Jenkins’ 2007 film “The Savages,” the central relationship was between brother and sister over the matter of how to arrange care for their estranged father suffering from dementia; in “Private Life,” a wife (Kathryn Hahn) and husband (Paul Giamatti) in their 40s go to great lengths to get pregnant. In both films, the relationship dynamics are intricately wound between fully realized characters with defined personality types dealing with profoundly realistic roadblocks. The motives are clear and the desirability of normalcy palpable. 

Jenkins’ dialogue is scrumptious for actors, particularly those with comedic chops, in its rhythm and timing. Hahn and Giamatti are ideally suited for Rachel and Richard in this way, but also because they possess inherently fallible human affects. The couple’s process of trying to have a child brings out their worst while also speaking to their most natural inclinations.

The “X” factor of the story is Sadie (Kayli Carter), their college-aged step-niece struggling to find her own way when they engage her in the conversation of being an egg donor. There’s also the element that Sadie’s an aspiring writer and both Rachel and Richard are also artists, something “Savages” also threw into the mix. The relationship between life and art has clearly been at the forefront of Jenkins’ perspective as a filmmaker and it adds a secondary dimension to the story to make it less preoccupied with its central narrative.

Although most indie dramedies don’t hit the two-hour mark, Jenkins puts worthwhile effort into establishing characters and a cadence to the story. Nearly every scene has a purpose and a dynamism to it, with a comedic or dramatic hook, presenting a complete snippet that adds something to the story or the experience of it. If there’s a criticism, it’s that Jenkins could be a bit more reserved when dialing up the on-screen conflict between characters, but the work around it and supporting it from underneath helps anchor those more melodramatic moments.

Subject matter counts for a lot in “Private Life” as it did with “The Savages.” Although having the resources to adopt or try multiple fertility interventions is not a universal experience, a couple going through an agonizing process to have something that most people desire is. Jenkins’ genius lies in her ability to tap into the emotions of that desire as well as its consequences and build out a story that speaks to all that with brutal honesty.  

“Roma” was a home run, but Netflix hasn’t done the best job at identifying and properly promoting its smaller gems like this one. For something this accessible, more people should be stumbling upon and talking about “Private Life.” 

4.5/5 Stars

Private Life
Written and Directed by Tamara Jenkins
Starring: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon


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