Private Life is a sentimental film written and directed by Tamara Jenkins. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn play Richard and Rachel, an unlucky married couple who’s had a long string of bad luck that’s prevented them from having a baby. Their obsession with conceiving a child is eating away at their savings, taking a toll on both of their bodies, creating an obvious divide in their relationship, and making them the laughing stock of their social circles and family. Hope comes to them in the form of Sadie, (played by actress Kayli Carter), Richard’s step-niece, who agrees to act as their egg donor. The film does an exceptional job mixing its humor with melancholy. Serious moments are interrupted by laugh out loud jokes and gags, while levity and warm sentiment are crushed by failure and disappointment. At its core, this is a story about persistence, and what it means when two people refuse to give up. There’s no doubt that Jenkins is trying to craft a story that makes the audience feel the frustration its main characters feel as they shuffle from office to office, go through procedure to procedure, and float from letdown to letdown again and again and again. This draining experiment in shot and location repetition is effective, but it doesn’t necessarily make for a great movie-going experience.
“…an exceptional job mixing its humor with melancholy.”
The cast of Private Life is brilliant here. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn can do no wrong in their roles, and you can’t help but root for them to find themselves a miracle. Sadie is one of the sweetest characters I’ve seen on screen in a long time, and Kayli Carter does excellent work with the part. It would have been so easy to play her as a selfish and conniving person, but instead, we get a wonderful and well-developed relationship between her Aunt and Uncle where Sadie comes off as selfless and good-hearted. Molly Shannon and John Carroll Lynch round out the rest of the main cast as Sadie’s parents, Shannon’s character is negative, jealous, and very against the idea of Sadie participating in the procedures. Lynch plays a warm father eager to help his family and feed his daughter’s dreams and aspirations.
“…it makes the film feel more like a social experiment.”
The problem with this film is not the cast, or the story, necessarily. It’s the execution. It goes on to a laborious degree and has one of the most predictable and irritating endings to a movie I’ve seen in a long time. You can’t torture the audience and set their expectations up so many times in the film only to continually knock them down and then just leave things on an ambiguous note. This film needed resolution, or just even a hint towards it. As the credits rolled, I felt absolutely cheated. I get what Jenkins was trying to do, but it makes the film feel more like a social experiment. How much can the audience endure before they snap? Again, watching this film I found myself relating to the characters and their plights, but I feel like it wasn’t in the right ways or the acceptable levels.
Private Life (2018) Written and Directed by: Tamara Jenkins. Starring: Paul Giamatti, Kathryn Hahn, Kayli Carter, John Carroll Lynch
Private Life premiered at The Eccles Theatre on January 18th.
7 out of 10