Private Life – Netflix movie review: “a warmly melancholic, empathic film”

Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn play a bohemian couple desperate to have a baby in this well-observed comedy drama

Private Life; Netflix; JH

★★★★

Writer/director Tamara Jenkins made her name with Slums of Beverly Hills and The Savages, both caustic comedies about families.

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For her latest slice of life she turns her observant attentions to a childless bohemian couple in Brooklyn, played with warm-blooded humanity and instantly credible chemistry by Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn.

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With Hahn having put off getting pregnant to prioritise writing a feminist book, the couple fears they have missed their window when the latest round of IVF fails. Easy gags are avoided but smiles are still raised during the medical stages (such as Giamatti, in hospital gown, attempting to provide a sperm sample to a naff porn movie and getting the TV stuck on full volume), but the crux of the story is their decision to use a donor egg provided by Giamatti’s super-intelligent step-niece (Kayli Carter).

Droll dialogue (“We’re doing everything we can, short of kidnapping, to start a family”) serves the narrative and while Jenkins gently mocks the middle-class suburban life of the couple’s in-laws (an industrial-strength leaf-blower is a particularly piquant symbol), Private Life is essentially a warmly melancholic, empathic film that holds your hand when it’s most needed.

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Private Life is available to watch on Netflix