“Private Life” review by Nate and Alex Blake

Directed by: Tamara Jenkins

Length: 123 Minutes

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD

Nate:

Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn are brilliant in this dramedy that tells the story of a middle aged couple struggling to conceive, but the script could use some editing. Tamara Jenkins, who wrote and directed, does an enthralling job of portraying the familial unrest and conflicting emotions that result from the couple asking a 25 year old relative (distant enough that it is not incest) to donate her eggs. The film falters however in early scenes that depict the couples’ long journey to this point in their relationship. Some of their struggles are interesting and moving, especially when they become the victims of a scam, but much of the first quarter of the film could be eliminated or shortened without losing any impact on the plot or theme.

private-life-sundance
Richard Grimes and Rachel Biegler (Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn prepare to ask their niece for a big favor.

I have to give Jenkins some credit though, as this is a story I wasn’t particularly interested in or one that I thought would unfold in unpredictable ways. It’s true that the first half hour or so played out very much in the way I expected it to. I was afraid the rest of the movie would follow suit and be the one I assumed it would be. Fortunately, there is a scene that changes everything and the remaining 90 minutes were quite refreshing. Of course, I wish Sadie (Kayli Carter), the 25 year old that our protagonist couple asks to be an egg donor, would have been less of a caricature early on. It also would have been nice if Molly Shannon, who plays her judgmental mother, had been given a little more to do.

Paul Giamatti has a knack for playing difficult, complicated and sometimes less than likable middle aged curmudgeons. Here that winning formula is mixed with just the right amount of sweetness. It would be a stretch to say I think this has the re-watchability of Sideways, but I enjoyed spending two hours with these characters.

Alex:

We definitely had plans to go to the theater yesterday to see a couple of films. But, as soon as I walked outside and discovered that it was a delightfully wet and gloomy fall day, I turned around and went right back inside. Yesterday was the kind of day that deserves to be spent on one’s own couch. With our plans up in the air, we decided to check out a movie on Netflix. Literally all I knew about this film before we watched it was that Paul Giamatti was in it. And, honestly, it wasn’t a terrible way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Both Giamatti and Hahn were wonderful in this film. Their relationship was natural and you could really feel the tension grow as their frustrations with their situation increased. My only real complaint character wise is in regards to their niece, Sadie (Kayli Carter). She is a liberal arts student who has lost her way and temporarily moves in with her aunt and uncle. The problem with this character is that she is a total trope. She plays your predictably annoying liberal arts student character who is an anti-establishment artist who feels like no one understands her. It the beginning, it was ok, but it got very old very quick.

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Kayli Carter as Sadie

In general, the plot was pretty good. That is only after you make it through the first one third of the film. The first portion of this film is completely unnecessary and doesn’t add anything. It really just hits you over the head while repeatedly detailing the struggles with infertility this couple faces. It shows a couple of rounds of failed IVF and a botched adoption attempt.  Really the first 45 minutes of this film could have been summed up in a three-minute scene in a doctor’s office. With that being said, one thing I did really appreciate during the first portion of the film was the shots they had of the waiting room when they went to the doctor’s office. The waiting room was always full and there were lingering shots on the people waiting. It was a stark reminder that this is a problem that many families deal with. At the same time, these shots were able to demonstrate the loneliness Rachel (Hahn) felt in this situation, even though she was constantly surrounded by people.

The screenplay for this film was very well done. The dialogue was original and natural. There were fights between the couple that didn’t feel staged and really conveyed their desperate desire to have a child. While I personally cannot relate to their struggle and desperation to conceive, the handheld camera work, the screenplay, and masterful use of silence throughout really helped to show the audience the emotions that these two characters were experiencing. It’s a film that definitely isn’t making my top ten list at the end of the year, but I would say it is a worthy watch if you have the patience to make it through the first act.

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