REVIEW: Private Life (2018)

Directed by: Tamara Jenkins
Starring: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Kayli Carter

Written by Jessica Pena

Richard and Rachel want to start a family. After many attempts and not being able to conceive on their own, they look at the means of assisted reproduction and other therapies to finally fulfil their wish to parent. When things go awry, they feel hopeless and in a very confused, exposed moment of their marriage. Like an act of serendipity, their step-niece Sadie moves in with them, being in a rut herself, dropping out of college and wanting to find inspiration. After seeing Sadie as so self-aware, kind, and just all around perfect, Richard and Rachel reconsider their fertility endeavours. Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life is unmistakingly poignant, revealing the truths in our blunders and journeys to rediscovery, hope, fulfilment, and wrapping those around us in two hours of a tender embrace.

Paul Giamatti, Kathryn Hahn, and Kayli Carter pull at our heartstrings and it’s quite easy to understand how. Jenkins’ script is brilliantly natural, giving every character, even Molly Shannon’s supporting role as Sadie’s mother, a fully realized characterization with real-world emotions and troubles. At one turn in the film, Molly Shannon’s character even struggles with all the commotion on her plate while also dealing with personal anxieties. Just as you might think of her as a time filler, she’s actually cared for by way of Jenkins’ admiration for womanly worries and its endless obstacles. Here is the role of a mother who so desperately wishes her daughter would grow up, but who is also not immune to that same sense of actual inevitability.

Giamatti and Hahn are clearly one of the most surreal and endearing onscreen couples of recent time, dialling up their characters’ natural charm and klutzy, honest marital mishaps, and somehow letting us in on the way it pains them. At one of their worst times, the doctor hands them a pamphlet that reads, ‘Sometimes it takes three to make a family,’ and it sends Rachel into a frustration, feeling left out at the thought of not carrying the child on her own. After years of trying and having awkward encounters with adoption counsellors and having to continuously inject hormone therapies, it’s like they’re about to throw in the towel.

In the film, you’ll quickly realise how the “private life” of this married couple culminates into something very sincere and carefully paced, like a comfortable high in knowing these things aren’t always so clear cut. Even though there’s a running thread about their struggles with fertility, it doesn’t seem to have a misstep in taking us from one empathetic point of view to another. It’s not so much about their wish to get pregnant, than the rekindlement of warmth and how the introduction of Sadie as a means of salvation affects the story first-hand. This comes along with observations of their own lives, the golden times, aging, marriage, individual transparency, and even the notions of giving up on all of them at once. Even at its most theatrical of scenes, it slices up humour at a moment’s notice, crafting its unique execution. These are all reasons to pop this film on and enjoy its wonderful understanding of life at its most desperate and quirkily beautiful moments.

Experiencing infertility has its woes. Jenkins pulls bits and pieces from her own life’s experience with treatments and infuses that realness into the film, disarming it of its unconventional, preconceived notions. In part, it’s a story about womanhood, but one that tangles in daily social concerns, curiosities, and weaknesses as universal as they come to any one of us. Richard, who once ran a theatre company, now works at a pickle-making company. Rachel, an author all her life, is working to publish her latest piece of work. They’re coming into assisted reproduction routes with a tired, hopeless endearment. As they’re both over 40, it’s quite easy to understand where their mindsets are at. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn are national treasures. Even at this couple’s defeats, they’re genuinely moving.

The many relationships of the film, the little moments shared with every other character, rests on the reliability and trust of its tender script. Whether it’s Rachel hanging out with Sadie—who’s half dressed and full of wanderlust—reminiscing her youthful self and seeing it in the girl in front of her, or the way Sadie is confiding to Richard that him and Rachel feel more like her parents than her own—the film wastes no precious moment.

Private Life says so much in scenes where words are minimal. The interpersonal dialogue feels quietly constructed, easing their poignancy and honesty into you. It’s inviting you to follow Richard and Rachel and be their confidant as a viewer. Throughout their most vulnerable moments and surprises, it leads on a keen, witty sense of their lives, fulfilled or otherwise. Sadie’s inclusion does wonders as much as it is truly bittersweet to the crystallisation of Richard and Rachel’s fertility voyage. Tamara Jenkins’ film is funny, gracefully poignant, and embedded in a wonderful, closely-knit ensemble. It’s a quietly magnificent film.

 

JESSICA’S VERDICT:

5

 

Advertisements

Reel Women: November UK Releases

Welcome back to Reel Women, the monthly feature that highlights the films being released in the UK that are written and/or directed by women. The clocks have gone back, it’s dark and cold outside, so what better way to spend the dark evenings than in the cinema?! This month there’s dramas, rom-coms and the start of the Christmas-themed releases. Oh, and there’s a little film about wizards and another small animated film featuring well-known Disney characters.

FotoJet.jpg

2 November

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston
Written by Ashleigh Powell and Tom McCarthy

When Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is transported to a magical world of her mother’s making, she’ll do anything to protect it.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is Ashleigh Powell’s first produced screenplay. She’s attached to adapt the books The Paper Magician and The Hazel Wood into screenplays.

 

Juliet, Naked

Directed by Jesse Peretz
Written by Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor and Tamara Jenkins

After Annie (Rose Byne) breaks up with Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), she embarks on an unlikely romance with a famous singer-songwriter who happened to be Duncan’s favourite musician.

Tamara Jenkins is a writer-director who was Oscar nominated for her original screenplay The Savages (2007). Her latest film, Private Life, is a new Netflix Original. Evgenia Peretz is a writer and producer, Juliet, Naked is her second produced screenplay.

 

King of Crime

Directed by Matt Gambell
Written by Linda Dunscombe

The biggest player in British cyber-crime goes head to head against some Islamic extremists by playing the biggest scam of his life.

As well as writing King of Crime, Linda Dunscombe was also a producer on the film, and the films casting director.

 

 

6 November

Widows

Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen

Four women whose dead husbands’ criminal actives leave them in trouble, conspire to come together to survive the forces that are out to get them.

Gillian Flynn is an author and screenwriter who adapted her own novel, Gone Girl (2014) to critical acclaim earning her a Golden Globe nomination.

 

 

9 November

Wildlife

Directed by Paul Dano
Written by Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan

A boy witnesses his parents’ (Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal) marriage fall apart.

Zoe Kazan is an actress and screenwriter whose acting credits include What If (2013), Meek’s Cutoff (2010) and The Big Sick (2017). Her previous screenplay was Ruby Sparks (2012) in which she played the titular role.

Our review

 

Outlaw King

Directed by David Mackenzie
Written by Mark Bomback, Bathsheba Doran, David Harrower, James MacInnes and David Mackenzie

The story of how Scottish Robert The Bruce (Chris Pine) fought to defeat and repel the much larger occupying English army.

Outlaw King is Bathsheba Doran’s first feature film, but she’s written episodes of multiple TV shows including Broadwalk Empire and Masters of Sex.

Our review

 

The Other Side of Everything

Directed by Mila Turajlic

A documentary about Serbian filmmaker Mila Turajlic, who learns more about her family history and her country’s tumultuous political inheritance after opening a locked door in her mother’s apartment in Belgrade.

Mila Turajlic is a producer and director who was also the cinematographer for The Other Side of Everything.

 

FotoJet (1).jpg

 

16 November

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Directed by David Yates
Written by J.K. Rowling

Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) tasks Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to take down Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) who believes wizards are better than muggles.

J.K. Rowling needs no introduction. After writing the Harry Potter book series that turned into a global phenomenon, Rowling is now the writing the screenplays for the Fantastic Beasts series.

 

The Princess Switch

Directed by Mike Rohl
Written by Robin Bernheim and Megan Metzger

Netflix’s first Christmas themed film of the year, The Princess Switch is about how one week before Christmas, Margaret, the gorgeous Duchess of Montenaro, switches places with Stacy, a “commoner” from Chicago, who looks exactly like her.

Robin Bernheim is a writer and producer of films and TV shows including Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Voyager. The Princess Switch is Megan Mertzger is first produced screenplay.

 

Hell Fest

Directed by Gregory Plotkin
Written by Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler and Akela Cooper

A masked serial killer turns a horror-themed amusement park into his own personal hunting ground.

Blair Butler is a writer, director and producer. Hell Fest is her first feature film. Hell Fest is Akela Cooper’s first feature film screenplay as well but she has written multiple episodes of the TV shows Grimm, Luke Cage and The 100.

 

 

23 November

Back to Berlin

Directed by Catherine Lurie-Alt

Documentary about eleven motor bikers have a mission to take the Maccabiah torch from Israel to the site of the infamous 1936 Berlin Olympics, for the first Jewish Olympic Games on German soil.

This is Catherine Lurie-Alt’s first film.

Nativity Rocks!

Written & Directed by Debbie Isitt

The fourth film about St Bernadette’s Primary School in Coventry and the staff and students there who audition for a coveted place in a spectacular Christmas rock musical competition.

Debbie Isitt has written and directed all four Nativity films – the first two films, starring Martin Freeman and David Tennant, are on Netflix if you fancy getting into the Christmas spirit early.

The Judge

Directed by Erika Cohn

Documentary about Judge Kholoud Al-Faqih, the first woman appointed to a Shari’a court in the Middle East.

Erika Cohn is a producer and writer and The Judge is her second feature-length documentary.

 

 

30 November

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Directed by Phil Johnston and Rich Moore
Written by Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon

Ralph and Penelope discover the internet and go on a whole new adventure.

Pamela Ribon is an actress, producer and writer whose previous screenwriting credits include Smurfs: The Lost Village (2017).

 

Disobedience

Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Written by Sebastián Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz

Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns home to her Jewish community after being shunned by them years before for her attraction to a female friend. When Ronit and Esti (Rachel McAdams) meet again their passions reignite.

Disobedience is Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s second feature film. Her previous film was Oscar winner Ida (2013) and her next film is Colette starring Keira Knightley which is released in the UK early next year.

 

The Wild Pear Tree

Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Written by Akin Aksu, Ebru Ceylan and Nuri Bilge Ceylan

An aspiring writer returns to his native village, where his father’s debts catch up to him.

Ebru Ceylan is a writer and director whose debut short film Kiyida (1998) was nominated for the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film at Cannes Film Festival. The Wild Pear Tree is her third feature-length screenplay.


And that’s it for this month’s Reel Women. That’s 16 films from a wide range of genres that are released in the UK that are made by women in November. Do let us know what you think of any of these films if you get a chance to see them – some might be easier to find than others!

Watch this Space #4

We’re coming in hot this weekend with some new staff picks to make your streaming time interesting! This week’s selections come from all points of the spectrum as we recommend stories of thrill, ones with heartfelt gut-punches, and one’s that delightfully pass the time. Let us know what you’re eyeing on this list or if you’ve had the pleasure of seeing one or two of these spectacular finds!

Paddington (Paul King, 2014)

Amazon Prime UK, Netflix US/ UK

Paddington. Oh, what a lovely film indeed. For someone who, to the best of his knowledge, wasn’t all that big on the duffle coat wearing bear as a youngster, the cute little bugger won me over in the first 10 minutes of his live action outing.

There’s an insatiable British charm that runs through the entirety of Paddington, injected into the witticisms of the heartwarming bear and his surrounding ensemble. This includes, but isn’t limited to, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman and Peter Capaldi. But the success of the film lies most of all within Ben Whishaw’s sublime vocals as the titular hero. Polite, self-assured and hilariously innocent, he brings the bear to life in a way I didn’t think possible.

It bears much similarity plot wise to underrated dog-flick, Beethoven, but there’s a level of admirable ambition in elevating this to a larger than life, sweeter than marmalade adventure that will have adults and kids wiping away tears of laughter in equal measure. And don’t get me started on Paddington 2, that’s an even bigger treat.

— Cameron Frew

 

Thunder Road (short) (Jim Cummings, 2016)

Vimeo

My recommendation this week will only take 12 minutes of your time, but I genuinely can’t recommend it enough. Thunder Road is written and directed by Jim Cummings, a chap we were lucky enough to interview recently following the premiere of the feature-film adaptation of this short at BFI’s London Film Festival. The short focuses on Officer Jim Arnaud, who is about to make a speech at his mother’s funeral. Cummings’ depiction of his character’s grief is truly heartbreaking to watch, and yet, he manages to add some heartwarming comedy into his performance that almost made me feel bad for smiling at. I don’t really want to say any more about the short as it’s best to watch it all first hand and witness the grief-stricken officer deliver his eulogy. I’m keeping my fingers crossed the feature-film adaptation secures some form of UK distribution because my jealousy for those who’ve watched it at this year’s LFF is reaching dangerous levels!

Tom Sheffield

 

Apostle (Gareth Evans, 2018)

Netflix UK/ US

If you’re thinking of assessing your squeamish meter this Halloween, then Gareth Evans’ Apostle might just be the challenge to put your stomach to the test, or bestow a psychological break on whichever poor soul you convince to watch it with you. Determined and never without his furrowed brow, Dan Stevens must save his sister from captivity on an isolated island inhabited by a religious cult lead by Michael Sheen’s prophet.

Brutal and dripping with grunge, Apostle contests with the big torture porn players but is laced with myth and fantasy that distances itself from the likes of Hostel while displaying stellar performances from Stevens and Sheen. Evans’ slow burning tension around a contest of beliefs is reminiscent with The Wicker Man and The Witch with one eye-widening finale that takes an early twentieth century folktale through the meat grinder.

Jo Craig

 

Private Life (Tamara Jenkins, 2018)

Netflix UK/ US

This superbly sharp dramedy is guaranteed to tickle your funny bone with its wholesome humour and endearing awkwardness. But beware, there are plenty of gut-punching moments waiting to hit you, whether you like it or not – which I guess you could say is testament to the way the film portrays the authenticities of adult life. Both Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn give career-best performances, and clearly thrive in this more grounded, raw setting. Alongside them, breakout star Kayli Carter shines, offering up much of the great comedic moments in this little indie treat.

Jakob Lewis Barnes

 

Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, 2018)

Hulu

In a year of stellar documentary viewings to pick from, Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap uncovers some of the hardest truths in domestic violence and young teen culture. With a caring eye and ear to listen, Liu chronicles 12 years in the lives of his and two friends’ upbringing in turmultous homes. From the emotional scars of trauma to the side effects of growing out of it, the documentary digs deep and looks for answers.

One obvious haven for these young men is how the escapism of skateboarding all these years has helped them retain a foundation of trust, fun, and safety from the bad. It’s one thing to leave home for the day and forget about the worries, it’s another thing to grow up and examine the person you’re becoming in part due to your childhood. Minding the Gap just picked up a Gotham Awards nom for documentary and it surely deserves it. Go find it!

Jessica Peña


Be sure to give us a shout over on Twitter if we’ve twisted your arm into watching any of the above this weekend. Feel free to share your streaming recommendations with us too!

Reel Women: October UK Releases

Written by Elena Morgan

Welcome back to Reel Women, the monthly feature that highlights the films being released in the UK that are written and/or directed by women. October is London Film Festival month and 38% of the films on show there are directed by women, so if you get the chance to attend the festival, try and see the hidden gems on offer. But if you’re not at the festival, there’s still films being released in cinemas and on Netflix this month that are made by women. This month we’ve got Netflix originals, documentaries, book adaptations and an anti-hero superhero movie.

FotoJet.jpg

3 October

Venom

Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Written by Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinker, Kelly Marcel and Will Beall

When reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) acquires the powers of an alien symbiote, he finds he’s not alone in his own mind and body anymore.

Kelly Marcel is a screenwriter, producer and actress. Her previous screenwriting credits include Fifty Shades of Grey and Saving Mr. Banks.

 

 

5 October

A Thousand Girls Like Me

Directed by Sahara Mani
Written by Giles Gardner and Sahra Mani

Documentary about Kjatera, a 23-year-old Afghan woman, tells the story of how she was sexually abused by her father on national TV. She’s seeking punishment for her perpetrator and to shed light onto the faulty Afghan judicial system.

A Thousand Girls Like Me is Sahara Mani’s first film, as well as writing and directing it she also produced it.

 

Jalouse

Written and Directed by David Foenkinos and Stéphane Foenkinos

A divorced teacher suddenly becomes jealous of everyone, including her daughter, friends and neighbours.

Stéphane Foenkinos is an actor, writer, director and casting director. Jalouse is her second feature film, her first film Delicacy was nominated for Best First Film at the 2012 César Awards.

 

Kusama: Infinity

Directed by Heather Lenz
Written by Heather Lenz and Keita Ideno

Documentary about artist Yayoi Kusama who, along with experts, discuss her life and work.

This is Heather Lenz’s first feature-length documentary, as well as writing and directing it, she also edited and produced it. Kusama: Infinity was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

 

Private Life

Written and Directed by Tamara Jenkins

Author Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and her husband Richard (Paul Giamatti) are going through multiple fertility treatments and it’s putting pressure on their relationship.

New to Netflix, Private Life is Jenkins’ third feature film. She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for her previous film The Savages (2007).

 

 

12 October

Smallfoot

Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Reisig
Written by Karey Kirkpatrick and Clare Sera

Animated adventure about a yeti is convinced that the elusive creatures know as humans, or smallfoots, really do exist.

Clare Sera is an actress, director and screenwriter. Her previous screenplay was the Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler comedy film Blended.

 

Pili

Written and Directed by Leanne Welham

Pili (Bello Rashid) lives in rural Tanzania, working the fields for less than $1 a day to feed her two children and struggling to manage her HIV-positive status in secret. When she is offered the chance to rent a sought-after market-stall, Pili is forced to make increasingly difficult decisions in order to get the stall.

Pili is Leanne Welham’s first feature film as well as writing and directing it she also produced it. Previously she has directed five short films.

 

 

13 October

Make Me Up

Written and Directed Rachel Maclean

Siri wakes to find herself trapped inside a brutalist candy-coloured dreamhouse. Despite the cutesy decor, the place is far from benign, and she and her inmates are encouraged to compete for survival.

Make Me Up is Rachel Maclean’s second feature film. She edited it, acted it and was the production designer for the film.

 

 

19 October

Science Fair

Directed by Cristina Constantini and Darren Foster
Written by Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster and Jeff Plunkett

Documentary about nine high school students from around the world competing in an international science fair.

Science Fair is Cristina Constantini’s first film.

 

Touch Me Not

Written and Directed by Adina Pintilie

A documentary about filmmaker Pintilie as she and her characters venture into a personal research project about intimacy.

Touch Me Not is Adina Pintilie’s first feature film and has won both the Best First Feature Award and the Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year.

 

 

22 October

The Hate U Give

Directed by George Tilman Jr.
Written by Audrey Wells

Starr (Amanda Stenberg) has two lives, one in her community and one in her private school. Those two lives come crashing down when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend by a police officer, and Starr must find her voice and stand up for what’s right.

Audrey Wells is a screenwriter and director. The Hate U Give is her ninth produced screenplay and it is an adaptation of the critically-acclaimed novel by Angie Thomas.

 

 

26 October

Utøya – July 22

Directed by Erik Poppe
Written by Siv Rajendram Eliassen and Anna Bache-Wiig

Teenager Kaja (Andrea Berntzen) struggles to survive as she searches for her younger sister during the July 2011 terrorist mass murder at a political summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utøya.

Anna Bache-Wiig is an actress and writer. Utøya – July 22 is her first feature film; however, she’s written a number of episodes of the TV show Acquitted which she also starred in.

 

Shirkers

Written and Directed by Sandi Tan

A documentary about Sandi Tan and her co-creators who made Shirkers which could’ve been a Singapore-made 1992 cult classic had the 16mm footage not been stolen by their enigmatic American collaborator who disappeared.

Shirkers is Sandi Tan’s first feature-length documentary. As well as writing and directing it, she also edited and produced it.


And that’s it for this month! Thirteen films that are made by women – ooh, thirteen unlucky for some, well it is October! Do let us know what you think of any of these films, or any of the films made by women at the London Film Festival, if you catch them this month.