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Review: Private Life (Sundance)

Private Life (Sundance)
01.19.2018
7 10

PLOT: A middle-aged couple (Paul Giamatti & Kathryn Hahn) try to keep their marriage from collapsing under the strain of numerous, failed fertility treatments.

REVIEW: PRIVATE LIFE marks the long-awaited return for director Tamara Jenkins, who hasn’t made a film since her well-received THE SAVAGES, which premiered at Sundance almost exactly eleven years ago to date. She’s back with the Netflix-produced PRIVATE LIFE, which gives Kathryn Hahn a long-awaited star-turn in a solid vehicle well-tailored to her strengths.

A nice mix of comedy-drama, this should play well on the small screen, and marks a solid, middle-of-the-road movie for the distributor, which should get people talking. Problems with fertility are something many people can relate to, and it’s interesting to see a film that goes into that subject in-depth, both exploring the tedium of repeat treatments (endless hormonal shots), the funny side to the often gonzo procedures, and most importantly the heartbreak when they go wrong - as well as the financial pitfalls.

Paul Giamatti and Hahn make for a good pair, with her near-mania and his passive-aggressive streak making them unpredictable, as you’re never really sure their marriage will actually survive until the closing credits. The film takes a bit of a left turn in the second act, with the introduction of Kayli Carter’s Sadie, the step-daughter of Giamatti’s brother (John Carroll Lynch), who quickly volunteers to carry an egg for the couple, much to the chagrin of her overbearing mother (Molly Shannon).

Running two hours plus, PRIVATE LIFE is a little long for a film of this kind, but that suits the Netflix vibe, with it clearly designed for comfortable home viewing. As such, Jenkins has likely been given the opportunity to make the film more relaxed, with the different beats not being rushed, making this less plot-driven and more character-based. The longer run-time actually benefits the tonal shifts, with much of the first half played for comedy, even veering into near-slapstick for a disastrous Thanksgiving dinner mid-way through. In the last act, it switches gears and becomes almost a melodrama or a tearjerker, something tough to pull-off unless you’re James L. Brooks, but Jenkins makes it work.

It’s worth noting that a movie like PRIVATE LIFE would probably never have gotten made had it not been for the streamer. Sure, the same premise and cast could have probably gotten it financed, but it would have been ninety minutes, and the focus would have been narrowed (I imagine the whole first act would have gotten cut). Had this been made in the seventies or eighties, it would have probably existed in a way that’s closer to its current form (although the stars would have had to be bigger), but the fact is - adult serio-comedies like this are an increasingly rare thing. This is a good one that marks a strong comeback for Jenkins, and gives Hahn a breakout part playing someone more down-to-earth than she’s usually allowed to. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good, solid watch and a no-brainer once it hits streaming.

Source: JoBlo.com

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