Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sundance with Abe: Private Life

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fifth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Private Life
Directed by Tamara Jenkins

Having a child isn’t always an easy process. Some people are lucky and things go according to plan, but many others have to find alternative ways to bring a life into this world. Societal expectations, family pressure, religion, and so much more can complicate already difficult medical realities when conventional pregnancy isn’t possible, and fear of judgment can be just as much of an impediment as financial restrictions and the sheer exhaustion of whichever process is selected. Yet there are some people who are determined to have a child no matter what the obstacles and will stop at nothing to make it happen.

Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) have been trying to have a baby for a long time. The successful New York City couple has suffered heartbreak after bonding with a young pregnant woman who suddenly vanished after they tried to transition from frequent video chats to an in-person meeting, and they have exhausted most of their funds trying creative ways to fertilize eggs. As they pursue the avenue of adoption, they use the arrival of their step-niece Sadie (Kayli Carter), a lost artist unwilling to acclimate to the world around her, as an opportunity to try an unconventional approach that may be unusual but might just be the answer to what they’ve wanted for so long.

This is director Tamara Jenkins’ first film in over a decade, since “The Savages” premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. That film was also a hybrid comedy-drama about the often humorous moments in a situation that can be heartbreaking and far from funny. Here, the pain that Rachel and Richard feel after experiencing disappointment after disappointment is conveyed, but there is also so much entertainment to be found throughout as Rachel and Richard concoct each new plan after lively debate, and opening up their home to a very grateful Sadie, who is far from shy about sharing her viewpoints on much of what defines Rachel and Richard’s daily life, puts them at odds with her disapproving mother (Molly Shannon).

Giamatti and Hahn might not be an obvious screen duo, but it’s the differences between them that helps to make their chemistry feel real. Giamatti is dryly sarcastic at every turn, whereas Hahn chooses more biting moments to show just how ignored and angry she feels. Carter is a wonderful discovery, full of youthful, antiestablishment energy, and Shannon complements them well as a frantically overbearing mother who also feels as if no one truly understands her. This involving film runs 127 minutes, which leads to it feeling somewhat cyclical and endless, but it proves rewarding in its compelling portrayal of a family unit in progress.


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