Private Life (2018): Tamara Jenkins’ Painfully Funny, Crushingly Honest Portrait of Childless Couple

The gifted Tamara Jenkins wrote and directed Private Life, a timely, sharply observed serio-comedy, starring indie icons Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn.

World premiering at the 2018 Sundance Film Fest, the The film was released on October 5 by Netflix.

Dealing with the issues of fertility and adoption–and the meaning of modern family–Jenkins has crafted a painfully funny and sad comedy, which boats smartly realistic and crushingly honest dialogue.

Richard (Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) are a middle-aged couple desperately trying to have a child. After failed attempts at artificial insemination, they attempt vitro fertilisation. The couple learn that Richard has a blockage that is not letting him produce sperm, forcing him to undergo an expensive surgery.

They are also attempting to adopt a child after having being matched with a pregnant teenager from Arkansas who was looking to give up her child but then stopped contacting them.

After the IVF fails, their doctor suggests using donor egg to inseminate Rachel which would raise their chances of success. Rachel is initially against the idea, but with Richard’s encouragement, she takes it more seriously.

Cynthia’s 25-year-old daughter, Sadie, decides to leave her college writing program and move in with Richard and Rachel. Rachel asks Sadie for her eggs, and surprisingly, she agrees, hoping the donation will bring meaning to her life. Richard and Rachel decide to go through with pre-screening, without Cynthia’s consent.

The trio happily take the egg donor treatments together, but Sadie is told that she is not developing eggs quickly enough, causing her to increase her drug dosage. The egg retrieval is a success, but Sadie becomes ill.  At the hospital, when they learn of the increased dosage, and Sadie moves out of their place.

Richard and Rachel go through with the implantation, which fails. Rachel is devastated, but Richard is relieved they are finally done with trying.

They drop Sadie off at the Yaddo colony, to take up residency as a writer. Rachel then reveals that she did nothing to aid her application and that Sadie did it all on her own.

While Richard and Rachel are celebrating Halloween, they receive a call from another woman looking for potential parents to adopt her child. They drive to an Applebee’s to meet the woman, and holding hands, they are waiting together.

Always clever and often heartbreaking, Private Life presents a painstakingly detailed of a chidless couple risking all they have–including love and intimacy–in order to have children and thus conform to the bourgeois definition of a “normal” American family.

Kathryn Hahn as Rachel Biegler
Paul Giamatti as Richard Grimes
Kayli Carter as Sadie Barrett
Molly Shannon as Cynthia Grimes
Denis O’Hare as Dr. Dordick