Starring: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Kayli Carter
Director: Tamara Jenkins
Running Time: 123 mins
Private Life is an American film about a middle-aged couple trying to start a family by any means possible, and after discovering a variety of fertility methods is a dead end, they turn to searching for an egg donor.
A heartfelt and fascinating insight into the struggles of starting a family in middle age, Private Life proves an enthralling and often impressively moving watch throughout. Featuring wonderfully genuine performances across the board, natural dialogue and intimate, level-headed drama, the film is as honest as can be, and as such allows you to form a deep connection with the struggles of its main characters.
There’s a lot that makes Private Life such a good watch, but what really impressed me was just how calm yet emotionally powerful the film as a whole is. With intimate marital dramas such as this, it’s very easy to get drawn into highly-strung melodrama when trying to portray the friction and tension between partners, and while that’s often a perfectly fair representation of reality, it can also feel very insincere.
Private Life stays as calm and level-headed as possible from start to finish, and while it certainly develops strong, powerful emotional drama at times, that only comes through a hard-working screenplay and striking performances, as the film builds tension and frustration in brilliant detail from the beginning that only begins to come to the fore once everything is already set into motion.
Not only is that a far more convincing way to create emotional drama and allow viewers to build a strong connection with the characters, but it’s also a more accurate depiction of the ups and downs of a real-life relationship. Not everything builds to a melodramatic outpouring of grief and frustration, nor does everything lead to a nicely tied-up finale with a perfectly happy ending.
Instead, the film changes and evolves in incredibly organic fashion over the course of its runtime, putting the real, immediate feelings of its characters on display while still paying attention to the wider context of the struggles in their relationship and to start a family.
And with the film’s wonderfully intimate, genuine and down-to-earth atmosphere, it’s more than simple to understand and sympathise with the pair’s frustrations and wishes at a difficult time in life, but the fact that the film doesn’t go overboard into any sort of melodrama shows that Private Life is still conscious that things could be worse, and that things can get better.
Alongside the main story surrounding the middle-aged couple’s story, Private Life also impresses with a story that looks at youth and idealism, following the young woman who agrees to donate her eggs to the couple.
In the midst of a period of real significance for the couple, the young woman appears stable, understanding and mature about everything, and yet the film shows that despite those qualities, she’s still inexperienced and prone to quick-willed changes – the exact opposite of what the couple want in their attempts for fertility.
Of course, the film is heartfelt and fair in its assessment of the ideology of youth, and that goes hand-in-hand with its down-to-earth look at the couple’s life, but it opens up interesting and often thought-provoking discussion about topics such as the generation gap, the hardships of the real world, and the importance of persistence in the face of difficulty.
With such strong emotional drama, Private Life can feel rather heavy-going at times, and that’s entirely fair. However, in order to lighten the mood throughout, the film features great humour and wonderful charisma in the form of its performances, as well as a screenplay with relatable, natural dialogue throughout.
Again, never straying towards melodrama, Private Life is a consistently down-to-earth piece, and in that it shows the regular rays of light that life in the real world does offer from time to time. It’s not all happy-go-lucky, but with a little bit of humour and positivity, it shows a passionate, natural and genuine approach to its premise, rather than the arguably more theatrically exciting heavy drama.
And with excellent chemistry and wodnerfully intimate performances from Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn in the lead roles, as well as a whole host of excellent supporting turns, there’s not a moment when Private Life doesn’t seem entirely heartfelt and authentic in its storytelling.
Overall, with strong emotional drama combining with a heartfelt, relatable and down-to-earth atmosphere, Private Life is an excellent watch, featuring a riveting and often thought-provoking look at the struggles of a middle-aged couple, the ideology of youth, and the hardships of life in general. It may sound like a heavy watch at first, and while it features moving, powerful drama at times, it offsets its heaviest moments with sincere and natural humour and charisma, all of which makes the film as wonderful as it is enthralling, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.