Private Life (2018)

TAMARA JENKINS

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.   USA, 2018.  Likely Story, Netflix.  Screenplay by Tamara Jenkins.  Cinematography by Christos Voudouris.  Produced by Stefanie AzpiazuAnthony Bregman, Tamara Jenkins.  Production Design by Ford Wheeler.  Costume Design by Leah Katznelson.  Film Editing by Brian A. Kates. Independent Spirit Awards 2018.   Toronto International Film Festival 2018.

Kayli Carter, Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn in Private Life.

Tamara Jenkins returns to filmmaking eleven years after her masterful The Savages, directing Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti as a Manhattan couple whose determination to have a baby is met with awe-inspiring obstacles, from the physical challenges of trying to get pregnant with medical interference to the process of trying to adopt.  Juggling all the moving parts of this operation means having to keep track of appointments and medical procedures, staying optimistic despite the discouraging news from an earnest doctor with a tacky sense of humour (embodied beautifully by Denis O’Hare) while also maintaining career requirements and not losing touch with each other in their marriage.  The tornado of moving parts that their baby machine has become gets that much more complicated when they come upon an insane solution to their problem: Giamatti’s step-niece (Kayli Carter) is willing to be an egg donor, which provokes disapproval from her mother (Molly Shannon) when it brings her to live with the couple and add the confusion of her own life to their increasing chaos.  Jenkins expertly balances humour and pain in a film that moves with exceptional ease through its various stages of disappointment, never hitting the dramatic notes too hard but also never allowing the funny dialogue to trivialize what these characters are going through.  It’s a slice of modern life that is not looking to teach but, in exploring the process that couples must go through on this very difficult journey with such sensitivity, ends up feeling beneficial even to those to whom it does not apply.

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