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"Private Life", First Visit

Chris Feil wraps up his look at the films of Tamara Jenkins with her newest film, now on Netflix...

If The Savages was like Slums of Beverly Hills all grown up and disillusioned, Private Life is like Jenkins’ first two films in conversation, and it’s maybe her wisest. Here Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti play an intelligencia couple Rachel and Richard exhaustively exploring every avenue to conceive, with newcomer Kayli Carter as their young adoring niece Sadie naively slipping herself into their struggle. With this newest film, Jenkins casts her widest net of characters, all the more rewarding with the vulnerabilities of youth and middle age are in dialogue.

Jenkins chapters the film while still structuring it like messy memory, resembling a life so anxious it can only be delineated by doctor’s visits and holidays. At the point we meet them, Rachel and Richard exist in a flurry of procedures and hormonal upheaval to the point that it defines them. But despite pursuing all of their myriad expensive and physically taxing options to bring a child into their home, Private Life is really about coping with the waning amount of options life provides as we age.

Sadie provides a natural counterpoint for their displacement as she exits her college writing program, facing what to her seems like a end rather than a chance to chart her own path. Assisting the doting Rachel and Richard in their conception goals is an avoidance and the best stab at an identity she can muster, one she takes with abandon. She reacts impulsively against opportunity she can’t quite see, where the couple is in a constant state of readjustment to what they can’t change. Theirs becomes Jenkins’ most complex family unit, a living fantasy of the supportive family they hope to create while being emblematic of the ways they have lost sight of eachother.

Once again, the writer/director takes her characters to nuanced places far more specific than we expect. Like her previous efforts, the world spins cruelly indifferent to our needs and our bodies, bringing Jenkins’ trademark observational humor and pathos to the forefront as things naturally become far more complicated. Private Life is the most spiritually attuned of her films and widest-reaching, alternating displacement and immediacy as Rachel and Richard’s life together becomes monotonously lived between deeply personal compromises. When the film comes to its quiet, note-perfect conclusion, Jenkins’ achieves her most arresting moment of compassionate cinema.

One hopes that this film does not fall victim to the Netflix dumping ground, particularly for the beautifully real performances that fill the cast. Carter has the naturalism that Jenkins captured so well with Natasha Lyonne in Slums, but also the unassuming presence to counterpoint the more serious consequence of her screen partners. The film also gives us the Paul Giamatti we’ve missed over recent years. But most wondrous is the inimitable Kathryn Hahn, giving one of the year’s best performances as she navigates Rachel’s medically exacerbated anxieties and difficult to reconcile expectations. Hahn remains one of our most underappreciated performers (at least where accolades are concerned) and this is one of her finest achievements.

If this mini-retrospective I’ve written on Tamara Jenkins’ work hasn’t been evidence enough, I’m a bit of a fan. But if there’s any hope in the decade-long stretches between her films, it’s that the arrival of a new one can bring her some new admirers. The films themselves, have only gotten better and better.

More Tamara Jenkins
Slums of Beverly Hills
The Savages

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Reader Comments (5)

Haven't seen this one yet, but I've been a big fan of The Savages for YEARS and really wondered what happened to Jenkins that she hadn't made a new film yet. But now we finally have another one, and a very good one, it seems. Praying it wont be another decade for her next feature.

And while we're at it, maybe Todd Field can be revived by Netflix, too?

October 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

I love The Savages and I quite enjoyed this one but it has a serious issue with the running time. Why do we keep getting comedies that are over 2 hours long. Most of them have no business being that long, most certainly not this one. It just stretches itself thin by doing it and tires its audiences.

Cast is wonderful though, Hanh is amazing but also really enjoyed Shannon in her role.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAlexD

I also quite enjoyed it. Hahn is such a great actress.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRod

I did not expect to enjoy this all that much, since the idea of watching a couple struggle with fertility for two hours sounded rather dull. But I thought it was fantastic, and Kathryn Hahn is extraordinary - she gives a completely lived-in performance. While it would have been all too easy to make Sadie a Millennial cliche, she is just as complex as the two lead characters.

I have to give props to the make-up people, costume designers, and set decorators as well; every aspect of the film appeared so natural, especially the lives of the central couple.

Cool poster, too.

October 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Tamara Jenkins has directed three films in spaces of 10 years each. Why? Will it be her own decision? What catches my attention that she does not even direct television is where many female directors have had the opportunity to work (Lynn Shelton, Nicole Holofcener who by the way has just released on Netflix her new movie called The Land of Steady Habits with Ben Mendelsohn)
I hope that Tamara Jenkins will not take 10 years to release a new movie.

October 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHarmodio

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