The title of Private Life, starring Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn as an upscale Manhattan couple trying to have a baby, is ironic. There are fertility issues for both of them — he’s 47; she’s 41 (they’re both four years older than that in real life) — so they’re trying IVF, adoption, surrogates, the whole nine yards. Whatever it takes to put a baby into their lives, “short of kidnapping.” As anyone who has been through this intimate process knows, it is the very opposite of “private.”
Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins (The Savages, Slums of Beverly Hills), this is seldom an all-out comedy, though it does have droll moments and scenes, particularly when the sophisticated air is punctured by a well-placed vulgarity from Hahn, who’s on the receiving end of what can often be a dehumanizing process of injections and inspections. Jenkins sprawls the film out over 124 minutes, taking us through the many, many avenues a marginally fertile couple might explore, including flashbacks to things they already tried.
It’s somewhat exhausting, which is part of the point; imagine how they feel! It runs long, too, with a pace that is somewhere between “leisurely” and “indulgent,” and the atmosphere — the main characters and all of their associates are urbane, theater-referencing, well-educated people who claim to have money problems but don’t really — can be stifling. But Jenkins and the talented cast (also including Molly Shannon, Denis O’Hare, Kayli Carter, and John Carroll Lynch) show deep compassion for these issues, so much that I suspect the film will be cathartic for viewers who relate to them. And Hahn, a comedy dynamo, gives a deeply felt dramatic performance that adds another layer to my esteem for her.