Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Future May Be Uncertain But At Least One Can Be Certain That Private Life Is Exquisite

The way Private Life depicts the day-to-day life of a married couple feels so quietly revolutionary to me in a number of ways. Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) have a number of issues to work through but they're mundane issues, the film doesn't drum up conflict by way of having one of them cheat on the other or have one of them go off and spend a whole bunch of money without discussing it with their partner. Private Life is far more interested in exploring the fascinating day-to-day struggles that crop up between the two and how they navigate them as they struggle to have a child and limiting the scope of the film to such a realistically intimate degree turns out to be one of Private Life's most brilliant decisions.

That approach is lent to following Manhattan residents Rachel and Richard's immense number of attempts to try and become parents, they're so desperate to have a kid that they're simultaneously reaching out to adoption centers and trying artificial insemination procedures. Just as they're jumping through all these hoops to start a family and running into difficulty every step of the way, their step-niece Sadie (Kayli Carter) comes to town and needing a place to stay. Rachel and Richard happily open their doors to Sadie who they've been close to her entire life. In fact, they have such a good relationship that the two of them propose a bold idea to Sadie: would she want to donate one of her eggs to help Rachel and Richard start a family?

It's a concept as bold as it unorthodox but it turns out its one that Sadie's down for because of how much kindness Rachel and Richard have shown to her over the years. Plus, this helps Sadie find some sort of direction in her life, a struggle of hers that puts her on a parallel track with our lead romantic couple who are also in search of a concrete future. The screenplay by Tamara Jenkins is remarkable in a number of ways but the manner in which it accurately captures just how quietly daunting it can be to have your future be so uncertain is maybe its best feature, particularly since that aspect of the production is enhanced by just how well-defined the script's characters, especially Rachel and Richard are.

Watching a powerful scene like a flashback depicting Rachel and Richard's failed rendezvous with a young mother-to-be has this subdued aching quality to it as you slowly realize how the hopes and dreams of this couple have been pinned on one person and now all those ambitions are crumbling away. Neither of these two characters even shed a tear in this flashback sequence but there's still a devastating emotional quality to the Jenkins writes and directs this scene depicting the fragility of their future. No wonder these two are so persistent in their quest to conceive a child, they've already been through so much Hell that they might as well keep on fighting to get to Heaven.

Such a storyline affords many opportunities for subdued drama, but it also presents a number of chances for highly amusing comedy and a lot of different types of comedy at that. We get a smattering of wordplay-based comedy, an extended comedic sequence involving Richard, during a medical procedure, trying to turn off some hardcore pornography that makes effective use of the Rake Gag effect and a number of instances where some well-timed pieces of editing had me bursting out laughing, most notably a cut to some baffled onlookers after Richard's brazen display of frustration at a doctor who was crude to Sadie. You would totally expect a movie starring Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn to have some instances of exceptional comedy just as you'd expect rain to be wet and Private Life most certainly delivers on that promise.

Speaking of the two lead actors, pairing up Hahn and Giamatti as a couple who have been married for a prolonged period of time turns out to be brilliant casting, the two play off each other beautifully and it's especially impressive just how convincing and engaging Hahn is in her most high-profile dramatic lead role to date. The character of Rachel goes through so much emotional upheaval in the course of this story and Hahn just keeps finding new ways to use these newly emerged instances of turmoil or triumph to unearth new layers of the character in her impressively complex performance. She and Giamatti work wonders in the more subtle aesthetic of Private Life, particularly in the movies final shot that conveys the idea that it's totally valid to still be nervous about one's uncertain future even if you're venturing into that uncertain future with someone you love. What an unexpectedly inspiring and realistically touching conclusion to such a fantastically conceived film.

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