2018 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: Tamara Jenkins highlights the use of awkwardness as a compelling narrative tool with her richly felt “Private Life.” Handling serious material in a humorous yet profound practice, Jenkins lifts the viewer to a cast of whimsical players including an always reliable Paul Giamatti, a heartfelt Kathryn Hahn, and a breakout star in Kayli Carter. Despite a few clunky missteps along the way, there’s no denying that Tamara Jenkins is a great storyteller, boasting one of her most penetrating films yet.
“Private Life,” tells the story of Rachel (Hahn), an author who is undergoing multiple fertility therapies to get pregnant. All this puts her relationship with her husband (Giamatti) on edge. Mixed in is the arrival of his carefree young niece Sadie (Carter), who has a prickly relationship with her parents (played by Molly Shannon and John Carroll Lynch).
In the midst of a cleverly executed tale is a career-best turn from the brilliant Kathryn Hahn. An actress who has been too underestimated and undervalued in her career (see: “Revolutionary Road” and “Step Brothers” for prime examples), who delivers a truly lived-in, complex portrayal of a woman near her breaking point. She finds the frustration and personal sadness of Rachel, allowing her to show the frantic and almost agitated nature with her life. It’s something that should be considered beyond a Golden Globe nomination in Comedy or Musical. Entirely honest enough for a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars.
Paul Giamatti is one of the most dependable actors working today. Making it look so easy at every turn, we almost take him for granted when watching any of his performances. Kayli Carter shines in her breakout turn that will have her phone ringing from Hollywood executives for years to come. Molly Shannon, who churned out a brilliant performance in “Other People” in 2016, seems to find her stride, highlighting all of her strengths in every frame.
While Jenkins’ script whips and moves, documenting the lives of these adults, which is rarely explored in film. At a crossroads, the couple is faced with the impending nature of their own age, and what the meaning of it has been. Jenkins tackles the gender dynamics of wanting children, and the way it affects men and women differently. There are chuckles, but not as many as you’d think There’s a heavy dramatic heft in the material, driving home that Tamara Jenkins needs to make more movies.
“Private Life” is a biting view of adulthood, against the backdrop of New York with a flawless style. Nearly tapping into her own inner Neil Simon in parts, she rattles the foundation of what we know as humor and gives it a fresh, new form that’s perfect for audiences to embrace.
“Private Life” screens at the New York Film Festival is currently available for streaming on Netflix.