Welcome to Double Take, a brand new collaborative writing series from the On The Clock team, in which two or more members of our writing committee review the same film, either with a similar or different opinion, to give the reader multiple stances on the subject being covered. Today’s article is on Private Life, the new Netflix Film directed by Tamara Jenkins which you can stream right now!
The newest feature from Tamara Jenkins follows an aging couple, Richard and Rachel (Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn) as they try one last time to have a baby. Having already gone through numerous medical procedures and a rigorous adoption process, they are ready to try anything. They find a solution in their step-niece, Sadie (Kayli Carter), who wants to help them realize their dreams.
Jenkins takes us into a very intimate and personal look at a family in peril and this is probably the best part of it. Giamatti and Hahn portray these characters with such realism that they come across as a believable and genuine couple. Their troubles are the central focus of this film and their interactions with the other members of the family are something truly special. In a crucial scene in the second act, a family dinner takes place, at which there is such tension and realism that I could almost see my own family around that table.
The lead performances are particularly great, as they carry this film through the various stages of this couple’s desperate last hope for a child- we can sense this in the air. The atmosphere exudes tension and desperation, which is perfect for a film of this subject matter. Sudden uncharacteristic outbursts are the driving force of this, giving it a whole other layer of being believable.
The film, however, does not come without its shortcomings. The side-plots are rather grey and unexplored. Some of them present very interesting issues, which would have made a welcome addition to the overall story. The arcs are relatively bland in the supporting characters and Molly Shannon’s performance (as Sadie’s mother) feels forced and slightly askew.
This film revolves very heavily around the medical side of this couple’s attempts to conceive a child, which can become tedious after a certain point. When the relationships are such a central and important aspect of the film, the science and biological part of it becomes somewhat unnecessary. This may not present to be a fault to many viewers watching the film, but I found it very distracting to the fascinating central character arcs.
Overall, Private Life is an interesting look at the struggles of a couple to share their happiness with a child, but is nothing more than this, with the sidelines becoming blurred as Tamara Jenkins devotes the sole focus of her picture on the main story.
After an 11 year Hiatus, Tamara Jenkins is back with Private Life, a personal and poignant film about family, sperm, and infertility. Within all it’s playful quirks, Private Life may be the most heart wrenching film I’ve seen all year. It’s a moving slice of life picture that manages to capture family dysfunctionality and relationship heartbreak in a poignant and honest light. Nothing feels artificial in this film, in which each topic that is covered, goes through multiple layers of depth and characterization in the writing and performance department. Like her 2007 flick Savages, Tamara knows how to perfectly execute familiar interactions on film.
It’s honestly surprising that Netflix produced this. As much as I like their streaming platform, there’s something so melancholic about the whole product that doesn’t really seem right for it to go straight to streaming. This film feels like a solemn stroll on a sunny winter’s morning. It’s peaceful and tranquil film, yet it also bites with the harsh frost and coldness of its environment. In other terms, I adored this film. The character dynamics remind me of my own family, and how tradition and customs intertwine with each other, in every argument and phase my family has.
Private Life is not void of criticism however. As much as I liked the build up to the central conflict, there’s a lot of fat in the first act that needed to be trimmed for the pace to flow better. Not to mention, the odd shifts in styles. There’s certain of parts in this film where it just randomly changes its look whenever a character uses their cellular device to take pictures. The general aesthetic and grounded purpose of said shifts feel random and polarizing in which nothing of value is added to the plot nor emotional ground of the film.
Private Life will leave you in shambles. It’s a beautiful look at family and parenthood that manages to encapsulate the emotional and physical trauma of it all. One of Netflix’s best by a long shot, and deserves most of the critical traction that it’s getting. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to stare at a wall and think about my life choices for one hour.