Middle-aged couple Rachel and Richard are desperate to conceive and will “do anything, short of kidnapping” to make their dream come true. Will the roller coaster of infertility treatments derail them, or will they find a way to become parents, no matter what the cost?
Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) live in a rent-controlled apartment in New York and have successful (though not lucrative) careers in the arts. In fact, their creative pursuits have dominated the majority of their adult lives, so much so that they’re now in jeopardy of being unable to start the family they’ve finally decided they want. Despite their advanced ages (reproductively speaking – Rachel is 41, and Richard is 47) they agree to go all in with every option available to them, including several expensive and painful rounds of IVF. When that is unsuccessful, they broach the subject of using an egg donor, an act that intensifies their quest in unexpected ways.
I like my eggs scrambled…
Of course, the casting of Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti is absolutely brilliant – these are two of the best quietly underrated actors working today, and seeing them play off one another is a treat. Another bonus is that these two are so likeable, it’s easy to continue rooting for them even as their characters spiral out of control. In the hands of anyone else, I fear this plot would’ve been far less tolerable.
The Netflix release marks Tamara Jenkins return to the director’s chair after an 11-year absence and it’s wonderful to see her presence again. However, those looking for Jenkin’s trademark wit – established with stunning dexterity in 1998 with the fabulous Slums of Beverly Hills– might be disappointed. While Slums tackles fairly serious situations with a large ray of hope and humor (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Natasha Lyonne and Marisa Tomei’s characters dance with dildos), Private Life focuses on the nitty gritty, almost to an excruciating level. This lack of laughs comes as a surprise, given that Jenkins also just helped pen the script for the delightful Juliet, Naked. If you’re in the mood for a drama that zeroes in exclusively on the emotionally painful difficulties that can accompany conception, this is for you. But if you got suckered in by the promise of a comedy, you’re likely going to walk away feeling decidedly less satisfied.
Life is what happens while you’re waiting at Applebee’s.
That’s not to say the film is bad – it’s not. Again, Hahn and Giamatti are worth watching, no matter what the genre. But the plot is definitely niche – it doesn’t let up for a moment on how these two are going to get their hands on a baby. The scenes with their “step” niece (Kayli Carter as Sadie) are so uncomfortable, it’s like watching The Handmaid’s Tale. (A bon mot also addressed in the dialogue.) The misguided attempt to use their niece as an egg donor is definitely one of the more bizarre aspects of the story – how in the hell was that really going to work in the long-run? (It should be noted that Sadie is not their biological relation – she’s the stepdaughter of Richard’s brother – so at least there’s that!) But, again, if you’re looking for more traditional laughs, you should definitely keep scrolling through your queue.
Some may wish Private Life had remained just that, but for those with voyeuristic tendencies wishing to see a marriage splayed open, this is for you.
Private Life (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Rachel and Richard argue. (You’ll want a designated driver on hand for this challenge alone!)
Take a Drink: every time Sadie chews with her mouth open. (Ditto!)
Take a Drink: every time you question if Rachel and Richard really even want a child, or if they’re just trying to fill the void in an attempt to outrun their own mortality.
Take a Drink: every time the stained-glass pregnant woman ornament taps on the window at the fertility treatment center.
Do a Shot: for the epic meltdown during Thanksgiving. Every family has one, and this is a doozy! (A shout-out to Molly Shannon as Cynthia, Sophia’s mom.)
Do a Shot: for the scene where Rachel is sitting in the tub (with no underwear on, clad in only a t-shirt) scrubbing it down with Comet. I don’t know about you, but I’m not putting my lady bits anywhere near a toxic, gritty cleansing powder. Ouch!