Critics' Pick

Private Life (R)

Drama 127 min. October 5, 2018
By Alan Scherstuhl
One of our era's great comedies, Tamara Jenkins' intimate, incisive Private Life centers on issues of fertility and surrogacy, though its broader concern is time itself -- how it surges on even as everything we might have dedicated our lives to withers around us. Its leads, feminist writer Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti), a one-time wunderkind of no-budget theatrical productions, find themselves desperate to conceive a child even as the doctors they pay (borrowed) thousands to speak frankly of the odds. Nearing 50, they're not just facing the end of their of their potency. They live in a rent-stabilized East Village apartment they could never afford at market rates.

A child wouldn't just fulfill their own innate needs to love and be loved; it could also be their last, best chance to improve a fallen world. Eventually, after a host of piercingly funny scenes at clinics or in their apartment, Richard administering painful shots and Rachel insisting he must be doing it wrong, they face one last possibility. Perhaps they could hire a young woman to donate an egg. Enter Sadie (Kayli Carter), Richard's beaming stepniece, a creative-writing student at Bard who comes to crash with the couple while she gets her life together.

Jenkins (director of The Savages and Slums of Beverly Hills) is always more interested in emotional truth than she is in laughs. Throughout Private Life's tense 124 minutes, she continually achieves both. Her excellent leads embody this duo without condescension or self-consciousness, betraying no sense that anything they say or do is in the least bit funny -- or, when they're plying young Sadie with street tacos, that any of this is creepy.
Tamara Jenkins Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Molly Shannon, Kayli Carter, Siobhan Fallon Hogan Tamara Jenkins Netflix

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