I picked one off my Netflix queue last night: “Private Life.” Richard (Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) are a middle-aged couple struggling with infertility and desperate to have a child. Why so desperate, we’re not sure. They’ve tried everything as we quickly discover in a number of wry and painful scenes of crowded waiting rooms, specialist visits, drug injections, etc. Not something anyone wants to go through.
There’s both humor and sadness–a testament to excellent performances. And there are some standard plot points. It turns out that infertility is expensive, for a writer/novelist (her) and a theater guy/pickle entrepreneur (him). So they might have to borrow money from Richard’s brother Charlie who is married to Cynthia who has a daughter from her first marriage, Sadie (Kali Carter).
Sadie has left her college writing seminar to stay with beloved Uncle Richard and Aunt Rachel—Sadie’s relationship with her mother is tense and strained at best. Sadie becomes a scene-stealer as well as the film’s lynchpin when Richard and Rachel ask their niece (not by blood–that is gracelessly explained) to donate her eggs, which she agrees to do because she’s full of doubt as a writer and wants to do something meaningful for the aunt and uncle she loves who have taken her in.
Sadie’s poor Mom, facing her own existential crisis, erupts at this news. Conflict ensues. Will Sadie donate her eggs? Will Rachel get pregnant? Will Rachel and Richard’s marriage flounder? The story plays out.
This type of film is basically one long close-up of a deeply personal issue that plagues couples who want to have kids but so far can’t. There are a few missteps in the story, and the character of Sadie’s mom is painful to watch at times, but the starring performances from Giamatti, Hahn, and Carter give this film a huge boost a make it worth watching.