Why Netflix’s “Private Life” Is The Refresher Course On Never Giving Up
Netflix is still the shit! But when it comes to original fare, I tend to find more misses than hits, but on an unusually chilly evening, after being served with another batch of error messages from Hulu, I went to my standard default for a hopefully quick rescue.
When you’re confronted with a barrage of options all at once, it can take a minute to get your vision accustomed to scoping out the winners. And then you also have to settle your appetite so you can pick either the movie you love, but have seen a hundred times or a new title that isn’t sweeping you off your feet.
I will never know what drew me to Private Life, but I’m glad I didn’t put up a fight, because it turned out to be blissfully affecting and surprisingly therapeutic.
The story centers around a middle-aged couple, who refreshingly embody the dying art that is the well-furnished bohemian lifestyle in the East Village, who are entrenched in the modern-day crusade — that’s recruiting a greater chunk of the population than we realize.
They’re trying and failing to have a child.
The film directed by Tamara Jenkins who happens to be responsible for another gem I stumbled upon while casually surfing cable channels back when such an act was legit — The Savages (2007) — is another intimate study of the complexities of bonded relationships that are tested beyond limits, due to the rules that govern the game of life.
Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn are two actors that have perfected the ability to naturally demonstrate the layered nuances of humans in ways that are endearingly relatable and comfortingly appealing. Giamatti was memorably messy in an emotional way in 2004’s independent hit, Sideways, and Hahn who has more than paid her dues with a consistent trajectory that matches fellow actress Judy Greer — proved her uncanny prowess in Showtime’s doomed dramedy — Happyish.
And so it was no surprise when I immediately got sucked into the lives of Richard and Rachel, who are knee deep in debt, and laser focused on welcoming their first child in the near future. All they have to do is successfully get pregnant, which we quickly discover has become a challenging project that is costing them a lot more than they anticipated.
Both their careers (she’s a modestly successful novelist and he’s a former theater manager turned specialty store owner)— don’t necessarily set them up for the financial investment of desperately trying every avenue imaginable to guarantee the positive results that counterparts who are two decades younger take for granted.
When we first meet the engrossed couple, the race for a baby has already accumulated quite a bit of mileage, as we later learn that they had been previously duped by a teenager in another state, who was eager to give up her baby, but mysteriously disappeared right in the middle of the process.
All the regular routes to babydom are explored as we watch Richard administer an injection to Kathryn as she winces with practiced discomfort, and he visibly exposes the weightiness of being completely consumed in baby-making techniques that require the miracle of science without the plain miracle.
As it turns out trying to start a family the old-fashioned way — in your mid-to-late forties is a thankless project that sucks the life out of weary participants who are well aware of the odds against them — but still persists if the yearning is strong.
After the negative results reaped from several attempts at artificial insemination, and the disappointing outcome of IVF — the resilient couple is faced with the reality of having to rely on the donor egg of a younger and more fertile woman, and after brief consideration — the search is on for the perfect candidate.
This next phase introduces us to the twenty-five-year-old daughter of Richard’s brother’s wife — who is a bubbly and vibrantly aimless Millennial, who is creatively gifted — and has all the time in the world to decide what she wants to do with her life.
Sadie’s entry into the feverish landscape that her favorite couple in the world are fearlessly navigating with flailing sanity proves to be quite eventful; with elements of sobering episodes that will hit close to home for anyone who has ever dared to present an unconventional request or agreed to a life-altering sacrifice.
Whether or not you can empathize with the emotional rollercoaster that dominates the valiant pursuit of overcoming the limitations of infertility won’t deter you from the brilliant themes of limitless resilience — and the unfailing quest to create love from the blueprint that already exists within a thriving partnership.
As a middle-aged woman who always visualized giving birth to her own kids, but now has to contend with the unlikelihood of that ever happening — Private Life was a welcoming jolt into the grittiness of what it entails when you’ve pretty much run out of time, and still can’t seem to throw in the towel — even after weathering the terrain of inflexibility in the bad luck category.
The striking aspect of the film is the relationship between two people who have experienced enough highs and lows to avoid being eaten alive by the grief of a very personal struggle — that would ordinarily galvanize the firmest of alliances after an extended period of total duress.
But what Tamara Jenkins has amassed is a work of art that takes you through the motions of daily strife that surpasses what can be reasonably harbored, and yet the main characters are seamlessly interwoven with the new normal — that does quite a bit of pummeling both physically and mentally.
The amazing chemistry between Richard and Rachel puts you at ease and summons the quiet hope that things will work out in the end.
And in the perfect world that we’re all under pressure to replicate on social media platforms that host the commendable attempts to “Keep Up” with the dizzying falsehood of over-indulged reality TV stars — that are immune to the reality checks that make our existence poignantly adventurous — it’s palatably fulfilling to engage in something that rejects the blindness of filters.
In a climate where impossibly cute and purposely engineered biracial babies can be gathered and displayed by pampered celebrity sisters — who can afford to make outlandish dreams come true with the support of tranced-out fans — it’s mentally healthy to witness the appetizing trials and tribulations of fictionalized characters who are are real enough to touch.
This organic attraction to the infuriating fest of unpredictability when so much is at stake is manifested through the seasoned talents of Giamatti and Hahn who each deliver award-winning performances that leave you breathless for more.
There’s also the stylized direction of Jenkins, who masterfully builds a tapestry of authentic moments that tug at your heart strings, and opens you up to the road that most have travelled with little or no success. This ultimately gives Private Lives the voyeuristic endorsement by those of us who are finally mature enough to fathom the painful struggle of infertility.
In the end, we reluctantly part ways with the spirited couple that invited us to partake in the beautiful chaos that ensues when giving up isn’t remotely an option.
And that’s the refresher course that is in dire need of activation as we endure this season of excessive reliance on the magic tricks, that allow us to eat our cake and have too with the assurance that the shakiness of instant gratification, won’t crumble under the strain of the maddening crowd.
Now more than ever, we need to revert back to the basics of reachable expectations and the joy of repeatedly falling down so we can get back up with the strength and resolve that builds the solidness of character — that will possess enough durability for the real world — as opposed to the versions that require multiple logins and coerced profiles.
Private Lives is that offering that serves as the wake up call that recognizes the entrapment of the mandated fairy tale ending — and hopefully I’m not the only one who was grateful for the reminder.