Private Life

 

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In just her third movie, writer-director Tamara Jenkins conjures up a warm, funny and heart-wrenching look at a middle-aged couple desperate to conceive a child of their own.

 

Private Life

Child play: Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti

  

More than anything else, Richard Grimes and Rachel Biegler want to have a baby. But now that he’s 47 and she’s 41, the likelihood is dwindling by the day. He only has one testicle, but his sperm, too, “has gone on sabbatical,” while Rachel’s eggs are not cooperating. The stress is affecting their relationship, not to mention their bank balance, and the adoption route seems to be ensnared in red tape. Then the couple are handed a pamphlet embossed with the legend, “Sometimes it takes three to make a family.” The next step is to surf “the eBay for ova.”

 

It seems a crime that Tamara Jenkins hasn’t directed a feature since Savages (2007), another wise and funny film about families dealing with problems beyond their ken. Private Life is not only a crash course in the world of IVF, but a human, moving, well-informed and ferociously witty movie. Additionally, it’s beautifully acted, with Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti given a rare chance to shine as beleaguered, funny people clinging to the buoy of their marriage. As their niece, a mature student still in college at the age of 25 (described as “damage limitation” by her mother), Kayli Carter adds spontaneous balance, recalling the conflicted spirit played by Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird.

 

Highlighting the pitfalls of middle-aged conception, the film reminds us what a miracle fertilization can be. And in stylish, elegant strokes, it conjures up a milieu with characters that are at once both exasperated and hilarious, friends we are reluctant to leave by the movie’s end.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Paul Giamatti, Kathryn Hahn, Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch, Desmin Borges, Denis O'Hare, Siobhan Fallon Hogan.

 

Dir Tamara Jenkins, Pro Anthony Bregman, Stefanie Azpiazu and Tamara Jenkins, Screenplay Tamara Jenkins, Ph Christos Voudouris, Pro Des Ford Wheeler, Ed Brian A. Kates, Costumes Leah Katznelson.

 

Likely Story-Netflix.

123 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 5 October 2018. Cert. 15.