There is an age-old dilemma in Manhattan in respect to career and family. When I was a preschool teacher 10 years ago, the average age of the parents in my class when they gave birth was 40. My own mother had me at 22. This was the “normal” I understood. But, after I got married at 31 and moved back to Manhattan after years of traveling the world, I realized that I was faced with the same dilemma. My husband had not just hinted but boldly stated that he was ready for kids. I had just gotten deep into film criticism and similar projects, there was no way I was about to slow down now. Then, once I was ready it took a grueling 8 months to get pregnant. I know, some people will say that’s not a very long time, it takes years for some women to get pregnant. But that feeling of disappointment and fear month after month is palpable still. Those visceral memories are what made Tamara Jenkins new film Private Life so engrossing for me.
Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti play a couple that put arts careers first and family second. Then the reality of the situation slams into them head-on. With adoption, fertility treatments, and surrogacy all on the table, this couple cannot seem to catch a break. The brilliance of this film is the fact that it’s rooted in reality. The emotional rollercoaster that is trying to be parents is all emotions at once. The comedy is as pure as the heartbreak. Giamatti is always fantastic. There is a beautiful juxtaposition in a performance from Molly Shannon. On the surface, it may appear to be an uncomplicated foil for Katherine’s character, but it is anything but. Private Life‘s essence lies in Hahn’s performance. Her soul-baring work will most certainly catch you off guard. It’s the quietest moments that crush you. Her specificity is award-worthy stuff, no doubt. Private Life is not just about having a kid, it’s about marriage. It’s about the delicate balance of love and hate and resentment between two people who promise to be together forever. Hands down, in my top three films from the festival this year. You can catch Private Life right now on Netflix. I highly recommend you do.