Review: Private Life


Netflix isn’t messing around anymore. This awards season they are really trying to shove their success into the faces of the Academy by bringing festival darlings to their platform. The first film from Tamara Jenkins in over a decade, Private Life has all the ingredients to make an indie drama that is sure to see some Oscar love at the end of the year.

Problem is that all of these ingredients come together into a well-made movie that just might be a little niche for mass appeal, even by indie drama standards.

Private Life | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

Private Life
Director: Tamara Jenkins
Rated: R
Released: October 5th, 2018

Richard and Rachel (Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn) are a married couple in their 40s trying desperately to have children. After spending their most fertile years working and making a name for themselves as writers and playwrights, their biological clock is nearing its ringing point and they are now staring down a life that they fear is wasted. Using modern science and social connections the two-hour drama shows their struggle and the strain it puts on their relationship.

Giamatti and Hahn are both fantastic in their roles as a couple desperate to find even the tiniest hope to cling on to. With each failure they try to see the virtue of moving on to the next even more extreme step, eventually landing on using an egg from a third source. Enter Sadie (Kayli Carter), Richard’s niece-in-law that has similar characteristics to him and his wife, if just a little too new age for their tastes. After dropping out of college completing college in absentia, Sadie moves in with them in their tiny Manhattan apartment.

What follows is a believable but at times uneven journey through their journey together of self-discovery and later life child birthing. I say it’s uneven because there is just too much going on in this movie it feels like a series of vignettes, most of which are left unresolved or finished with hastily thrown together scenes. There’s an entire subplot that has Molly Shannon as Sadie’s somewhat sadistic mother, who seemingly only wants Richard and Rachel to fail in their attempts to have a child, that feels so inhuman that it’s like Jenkins wrote her character in as the exact opposite of Rachel’s just to make an antagonist.

Thankfully Shannon’s character is the least unbelievable character in the lot and she has maybe five minutes of screentime. The majority of the movie focuses around the three mains and you can tell that they each relished their role. Giamatti is as always great as a morose middle-aged New York City dweller, Hahn makes a rare but imminently believable turn as a writer who feels like she is missing out on a base life experience. Newcomer Kayli Carter plays the boisterous no filter mid-20’s millennial to perfection and her character feels the most real out of all those on screen.

There is the issue that a lot of this premise feels just a little too on the nose in terms of niche appeal. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a male in my 30’s in a long-term relationship with a woman who has explicitly stated that she has no desire to have kids so a lot of this just went right over my head. There are a few times where Jenkins makes good strides towards making the couples pain universally understandable but then there are times where certain concepts are laid out without any explanation. That’s not to say it detracts from the overall drama but I feel that people other than myself will enjoy it better.

All in all, it feels about what you’d expect from a Netflix exclusive drama. It’s niche in its target audience but enough quality is there that it would be good enough for anyone to watch if the mood hits you.

Anthony Marzano
Anthony Marzano likes long talks in naturally-lit diners and science fiction movies about what it means to be human.