AP NEWS

‘Private Life’ provides showcase roles for Kathryn Hahn and Molly Shannon

September 30, 2018

‘Private Life’ provides showcase roles for Kathryn Hahn and Molly Shannon

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Filmmaker Tamara Jenkins (“The Savages,” “Slums of Beverly Hills”) has a remarkable way of taking many and varied offbeat routes to moments packed with great emotional truth. These trips are sometimes comic, sometimes painful, sometimes reassuring, sometimes disturbing.

Yet, while the overall scheme may seem haphazard, each trip within the bigger journey is slyly and exactly planned, drawing us ever deeper and deeper into the lives of her characters. And this virtuoso storytelling skill is on grand display in “Private Life,” an intricately structured film that Netflix will premiere Friday, Oct. 5.

The searing mix of comedy and drama provides showcase roles for two gifted prime-time veterans from the Cleveland area: Kathryn Hahn, who grew up in Cleveland Heights, and Molly Shannon, who grew up in Shaker Heights.

Hahn is top-billed with Paul Giamatti (Showtime’s “Billions”), and they are very much the aching heart and searching soul of “Private Life.” And that would be more than enough to lure you into these private lives explored in such captivating style by writer-director Jenkins. But consider that you also are in the marvelous company of Shannon, John Carroll Lynch, Denis O’Hare and dynamic newcomer Kayli Carter.

Giamatti and Hahn play a New York couple struggling with infertility. Although devoted to each other, they have become obsessed with becoming parents through assisted reproduction or domestic adoption. Everything conspires against them. They’ve staggered from one attempt after another, each ending in heartbreak.

Doesn’t exactly sound like a million laughs? Well, to be sure, “Private Life” at times finds Richard and Rachel in places almost unbearably tragic. But they also have their share of absurd and downright silly interludes. What makes them so endearing is their appreciation of the silly and the absurd.

While the infertility obsession has put a strain on their marriage, Richard and Rachel can’t let go of the pursuit. They remind you of characters stuck between comedy and tragedy in an Anton Chekhov play, and it certainly wouldn’t be surprising to hear Jenkins cite Chekhov as an inspiration.

Richard, 47, is a theater director who pays the bills by managing a pickle company. Rachel, 41, is a writer with published books and produced plays to her credit.

In lesser hands, Richard and Rachel might come off as obnoxious, whiny and entitled. The magic of the star turns by Hahn and Giamatti is that their characters are just so vulnerable, down-to-earth and likable.

After a failed in vitro fertilization procedure leaves them at the end of their economic and emotional rope, Richard and Rachel all but jump on a possibility that turns up at their apartment door. This would be Sadie (Carter), the stepdaughter of Richard’s brother (Lynch).

Fearing the judgment of her ever-critical mother (Shannon), Sadie asks to live with her “cool” aunt and uncle. It isn’t long before Richard and Rachel are asking Sadie, an aspiring writer who recently left college, if she’d be willing to donate an egg to their in vitro cause.

Many of those little trips have led to this request. And there are many little trips after it, most leading to unpredictable destinations. When the journey is done, you’re left wondering where Richard and Rachel have been and where they are going, if anywhere, and, more important, you end up caring deeply about them.

REVIEW

Private Life

What: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti and Molly Shannon star in a film written and directed by Tamara Jenkins.

When: Friday, Oct. 5.

Where: Netflix

AP RADIO
Update hourly