Thursday, November 22, 2018

Babymaking for Royals and Commoners: “Private Life”

The big news out of Britain is that the Duchess of Sussex, better known as Meghan Markle, is with child. Ever since she wed Prince Harry on May 19. 2018, the adoring public (both in Britain and in the colonies) has been checking out her press photos for signs of a baby bump. Now, apparently, another royal baby is on its way.

The Royal House of Windsor seems never to have had any problems with fertility. When Prince Charles wed Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, she too was soon pregnant. (At age 20, she had the advantage of youth and good health when it came to producing a strapping young princeling.) That prince, William, grew up and took a bride, Kate Middleton: she was 31 when she produced the first of her three royal children. But Meghan is now 37, an age at which successful child-bearing can’t always be counted on.

Best wishes to her, needless to say. But I’ve just seen a film in which the gift of pregnancy is not to be taken for granted. Private Life (2018), from the increasingly adventuresome Netflix, was written and directed by Tamara Jenkins. She’s a gifted filmmaker, known for such well-observed family dramedies as Slums of Beverly Hills and The Savages. More important, she knows all too well what it’s like to try – and fail – to conceive a baby. After years of effort, she and husband Jim Taylor (the artistic partner of Alexander Payne) finally managed to become parents.

Parenthood is the desperate hope of Jenkins’ two main characters in Private Life. Vividly played by Kathryn Hahn (as Rachel) and Paul Giamatti (as Richard), they are New York artsy-types who probably waited too long to commit to the idea of childbearing. Now he’s 47 and she’s 41. Their union is strong, but they’re driving one another crazy as they explore the various increasingly unattractive options that lie before them. On the one hand, they’re looking into adoption, which means remaking their lives to appeal to some teenaged birth mother who may just be stringing them along. On the other hand, they’re going through an intrusive series of medical procedures that might seem hilarious if they weren’t so emotionally fraught. 

When they learn that basic biology has thrown them a curve ball, the idea of finding an egg donor first arises. And into their rent-controlled Lower Manhattan flat comes a niece-by-marriage, a spirited young college girl who may be the answer to Rachel’s anxieties about being removed from the genetic process. Sadie is sweet and eager to help, but also has a gift for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Like, for instance, at the Thanksgiving dinner table. She also has parents who are not at all happy about her involvement in this adventure.

I won’t reveal how it all comes out, except to praise Private Life as a slice-of-life in the very best sense. Hahn (whose previous work I don’t know) and Giamatti (who has made the portrayal of middle-aged male disgruntlement into a fine art) are funny, touching, and above all real. And young Kayli Carter is a revelation as the big-hearted, big-mouthed Sadie. By the film’s end, you want nothing but the best for all these nice (but highly troubled) people.

Private Life left me feeling very grateful indeed. I hope the House of Windsor feels the same way.

And my gratitude, plus an imaginary slice of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, to all Beverly in Movieland readers.

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