Private Life (2018) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Netflix continues to surprise me. They have some really solid originals that, unless you do your research, you may not even know exist. That’s the case for Private Life (2018), which was released back in October…and I didn’t hear about until right before the New Year. It’s the newest film from director Tamara Jenkins and has a solid cast who give some of the best performances I’ve seen from them – or even this last year.

Private Life allows the talents of Hahn and Giamatti to shine

Rachel Biegler (Kathryn Hahn) and her husband, Richard Grimes (Paul Giamatti), are trying to have a child, leading to Rachel undergoing multiple fertility therapies in an attempt to get pregnant. Both feel an immense pressure, and the stress is mounting, which is subsequently making them turn against each other. Though there is clearly a lot of love between the two, and the film explores whether or not this love can keep them from tearing each other apart.

Kathryn Hahn is outstanding in this movie. She’s always been pretty funny, and usually brings a certain charm that I’ve always found endearing. However, I’ve never seen her bring so much emotion to a role. Rachel is going through a cavalcade of emotions, and Hahn is up for the challenge that each one brings. From the various hormones she is taking to increase her fertility, to the hope she holds on to, to the dashed dreams she must cope with – Hahn brings so much to every scene. Despite all this, her comedic presence remains, as can be witnessed during one particular scene when Richard and Rachel are cleaning the house in preparation for a meeting with an adoption agency that is both risky and hilarious.

Giamatti is in one of the more sympathetic roles he has had in quite some time. It seems like in the last few years, I only remember him playing the skeevy agent character who is simply only looking out for himself. He is always solid in that role, but I’ve seen him in other films where he has showcased that he is capable of having way more range. Here, he gets to be a little more subtle. The passive aggressive comments he makes towards Rachel are biting at times, but they usually don’t seem like they’re coming from a place of hurt. Rachel is not innocent in this regard either, as she keeps informing everyone about the unevenness in Richard’s anatomy. They both take jabs at each other – but clearly, it’s not with the intent to harm as much as they just know how to get under the other’s skin.

The biggest pleasant surprise in the film was Kayli Carter who plays their step-niece, Sadie. Sadie is introduced early when we meet her parents, played by Molly Shannon and John Carroll Lynch – though she doesn’t become important until much later in the film. Sadie is a twenty-something who is still trying to find her place in the world, but feels she needs to be in the city. She starts crashing at Richard and Rachel’s, and then becomes a significant character in the film. Carter is marvelous in the role, playing the slightly-too-arrogant college student who thinks their opinions are completely correct and everyone else is just out of touch.

Final thoughts…

This was a film that I truly enjoyed so much of. The emotions were there, and I was brought into some moments far more than I would have expected. Jenkin’s characters are rich and relatable, so much so that even the more melodramatic moments hold up. Furthermore, no matter how heavy the subject matter starts to feel, she always allows for moments of levity where real laughs are had. Private Life earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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