The new film from Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Tamara Jenkins (The savages, Slums of Beverly Hills), Private life is the bracingly funny and moving story of Richard (Academy Award-nominee Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn), a couple in the throes of infertility who try to maintain their marriage as they descend deeper and deeper into the insular world of assisted reproduction and domestic adoption. After the emotional and economic upheaval of in vitro fertilisation, they’re at the end of their middle-aged rope, but when Sadie (breakout newcomer Kayli Carter), a recent college dropout, re-enters their life, things begin to look up.
When watching Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti in Private life, and most of their other work, it doesn’t feel like you are watching a film, that you are a spectator to a story being told. It feels that you are, instead, just hanging out with them, that you are almost a friend sharing the ups and downs of their lives. Their performance has a lived-in feeling to it that absorbs you from the first tender scene, where Kathryn is lying on her side waiting for Paul to inject her, to the final, bleak, wordless shot of the two of them waiting in a restaurant for a possible egg donor.
Fertility/infertility is certainly topical, as fertility rates are declining for various reasons. The great thing about Private life is that it does not take sides. It shows you the couple’s total heartbreak and fatigue, but also that their obsession with having a baby is destroying their lives. It further illustrates that Sadie, a young college dropout, knows, on the one hand, full well what it entails to be an egg donor, but, on the other hand, that she is not emotionally up to the task. Her parents, other family and friends all have opposing, very valid views. You sympathise with all these characters, because Private life shows you a glimpse into their lives, but does not judge any of them. That is why this film is so important for people dealing with this issue. It is a safe space to explore the topic without being shamed.
The film deals with little else apart from infertility, so if you are not affected by it, directly or indirectly, Private life can be rather bleak. There are moments of dark humour, but this is mostly a devastating tale of infertility and the lengths people will go to, to have children. Heartbreak is at the core of this film.