Movie Review: “Private Life”

Movie Review: “Private Life”

Private Life (2018)

Writer & Director: Tamara Jenkins

Length: 2h 3min

Watch on Netflix Rating: 5 out of 5

Heads up, this review contains some spoilers so go watch the movie first on Netflix.

Damn! “Private Life” dives right into the deep end, with all the raw emotions that come up with infertility, IVF, and egg donation. It was funny at times, but mostly poignant (in a good way). Rachel (played by Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (played by Paul Giamatti) are in their 40s and have done multiple IUIs and now have to try out other means of artificial reproduction.

Rachel is categorized as having “advanced maternal age,” a medical term for women over 35 years old. Now they’ve reached the point of needing to do IVF due to Richard’s very low sperm count, plus he only has one testicle. Richard has to endure the cringe-worthy surgery called TESE (Testicular Sperm Extraction). I had preconceptions of what men go through during the IVF process and how they have it “easy.” But after learning about TESE, I take that back. The movie didn’t show the TESE surgery, just Richard holding an ice pack on his crotch afterwards in the hospital while Rachel was lying next to him, post-surgery from her egg retrieval. There was a bittersweet solidarity between the two of them in that moment. 

But infertility has a way of wedging in between couples, and they inevitably have both minor and major fights. I watched this movie when it was first released in 2018, prior to my IVF procedures, and then I decided to watch it again after two rounds of IVF and only one resulting embryo. The first time I watched it I thought it was depressing. But the second time watching it I was shaking my head in agreement with many of the scenes. I genuinely liked how real it is, unlike some of the YouTube infertility couples that seem so glossy and keep me wondering, “Okay…but how do you really feel?” 

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Richard and Rachel face facts and realize that IVF probably will not work for Rachel again. They decide to look into egg donation. Initially they were considering an anonymous donor but then decided to ask Sadie, Richard’s step-niece (not biologically related). Rachel thought this might be a good idea because she wanted it to be someone they knew. Sadie is a 25-year-old college drop out, unemployed, and has time on her hands to help out her step-uncle and step-aunt. Sadie undergoes the same egg retrieval process Rachel already went through before, minus the embryo transfer. Sadie learns she is a poor responder to the medication and that she has incredibly low egg count for her age. Her egg count is on par with a woman in their 40s. Had she not decided to be an egg donor she might not have known about her fertility issues. Sadie’s mother Cynthia (played by Molly Shannon) was totally against her daughter doing the egg retrieval. I like how this conflict erupted during Thanksgiving, because there’s no better time to have angry disagreement than on Thanksgiving Day. Although Cynthia was never on-board with her daughter’s decision and she comes across as not understanding, I think Cynthia just wanted what was best for her daughter.

On the surface, this movie might seem like a downer. But I found “Private Life” to be refreshing with its fearless exploration of what happens not only to the couple experiencing infertility but also the extended family. It’s also about grieving, over and over again. Richard and Rachel had to grieve for every failed IUI, failed IVF from both Rachel’s eggs and Sadie’s eggs, and also a failed adoption (birth mother got their hopes up then disappeared). It’s an accumulation of grief over time but also a testament to their perseverance, and perseverance does not have to be pretty. It can be furious, depressed, hopeful, and mournful. It can be also be found in those moments of caring for our emotions independently, rather than relying on our partner to build us back up. It can be found in sharing what we really think, even when we know it will hurt our partner to hear it. 

But perseverance can also be found together as a couple through the shared experience of loss and moving forward with whatever happens next. I think “Private Life” showed all of the above and ended beautifully with the scene of them in the diner, waiting to meet a birth mother who might adopt to them. We don’t know how Rachel and Richard’s story ends, other than seeing the spark of hope come back into their eyes as they patiently wait. 


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