In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is rarely discussed because critics don’t regard it as a “natural birth.” You either conceive your own child or adopt, but god forbid anyone injects shots and meds in their ass to increase their chances of getting pregnant. Private Life explores this controversial subject through Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti), a formerly-artistic couple who are desperately spending all of their savings on ways to become pregnant. So far, they’ve fallen for surrogate scams, responded negatively to IVF’s, and fail to agree on a potential egg donor. But when their niece Sadie (Kayli Carter in a breakout role) comes to stay with them, Richard and Rachel see their last chance of finding an egg donor.
It’s this colorful ensemble that keeps the film engaging. Any other actors in the role and it would have just been two hours of white people problems. Giamatti and Hahn’s chemistry was electrifying, and these are easily some of their best roles to date. Rachel has to fight society and biology to have a child. Richard is patient in his commitment to finding a donor, but also has his own issues to deal with (the film loves to bring up that he has one testicle). It’s great being able to see Hahn transitioning into a more dramatic role when she’s mainly known for comedy.
That being said, Jenkins does insert some sharp comedic dialogue, and it perfectly compliments the emotional rollercoaster that both Rachel and Richard are experiencing. At one point, the couple fight about using a donor’s eggs and when Richard tries to explain that Rachel would carry the baby, she counters with, “Whoop-de-doo! What does that make me, the bellhop?” Hahn, so delicate that she’s on the point of breaking, delivers these lines with a mixture of melancholy and humor. But one wonders what would happen if Jenkins just abandoned the humor altogether and made this a strictly dramatic picture.
Carter also does an extraordinary job as Sadie, portraying her as a young woman who’s trying to find herself in the world. She’s not angsty but confused, a feeling that any 20-something goes through. Carter could quickly become the next Saoirse Ronan—a woman who possesses a wise beyond her years attitude.
While the first and second acts are okay, Private Life overstays its welcome and stretches its material thin. By the time the third act comes around, you want it to get to the damn point already. Jenkins put a lot of heart into a controversial subject but, overall, conjures up a film that is mostly forgettable.
This is a reprint from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival