Private Life Examines the Intrusive Intimacy of Infertility Treatment


Despite the proliferation of programming, quality doesn't necessarily come at the cost of quantity when it comes to Netflix. This year is a benchmark year for the streaming service with the acquisition of Roma and the fact that it snatched up Annihilation, which isn't available on the U.S. version of the platform, but was released in theaters earlier this year.

Though it was screened in a handful of theaters and debuted at Sundance in early 2018, Private Life is one such example of an award-worthy film that's easily accessible for Netflix subscribers. In fact, the movie was nominated for Best Screenplay and Kathryn Hahn received a well-deserved nomination for her performance by the Gotham Independent Film Awards.

Tamara Jenkins, who wrote and directed Private Life following her highly praised 2007 film, The Savages, draws from deeply personal experiences to tell her stories. She accomplishes what eludes many filmmakers by giving us a great gift: empathy.  

Jenkins juxtaposes the intimacy that is supposed to go along with trying to have a baby with the pain that many couples experience during the ups and downs of fertility treatments. She paints an honest portrayal of a couple going through the emotional upheaval of trying to get pregnant. She communicates the struggle of infertility in a way only a woman who has walked the same path can.

Watching this film came at a poignant time for me as Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (the brilliant Paul Giamatti) navigate life in the East Village as they squeeze into their Manhattan apartment with their two dogs. A recent New York transplant myself, I couldn't help but smile about what my new big city life might hold for me. The couple captures the career-focused New Yorker perfectly. They have been consumed with their art and hit mid-life with the panicked realization that it might be "too late" to have a family just when they want to more than anything else.

The process of trying to have a baby while struggling with infertility is an experience that so many couples face, and Jenkins has the creative dexterity to capture both the pain and even humor that go hand in hand. Jenkins tells their story in an honest and beautiful way and she presents an unflinching look at questions that need to be wrestled through, especially when it's not always black and white.

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The complexity of their situation comes into sharp focus when their niece, Sadie (Kayli Carter), comes to visit. Sadie is an undergraduate student trying to find her way and discover her purpose. When Richard and Rachel are looking at "last resort" options to get pregnant their doctor recommends embryo donation. What better person to go on this wild ride with them than someone they know and trust like family (though, thankfully is not technically related to them).

Sadie is sweet and well-intentioned, though naive. She's the stereotypical undergrad student who knows a little bit about a lot and is not afraid to share her opinions with the world. She is a breath of fresh air in Rachel and Richard's life and she just might be the key to helping them fulfill their longing to have a baby. Sadie's parents (played by Molly Shannon and John Carroll Lynch) and are not such big fans of the idea and their concerns are well-founded, but the film doesn't shy away from discussions around the "best" or most conventional ways to start a family and it gives us an opportunity to wrestle with that as well.

If you're looking for a feel-good movie, this isn't it. If you're looking for an affecting story that is brutally honest and carries a twinge of hope throughout, Private Life is a good pick as you're browsing Netflix. It's one of my favorite family dramas of the year. Hopefully we don't have to wait so long for another gem from Tamara Jenkins.

Hannah Lorence