Private Life Portrays Infertility Complexities, IVF Agony
Private Life breaks new ground by not flattening or sugar coating IVF. This film instead presents a multi-faceted story complete with the hellish, inhumane clinic experience and callous staff. Every ounce of the indignity that accompanies IVF is here to see.
You will realize moments into Private Life that Tamara Jenkins, the writer and director behind the new Netflix film, is an IVF veteran. Jenkins misses nothing. Her keen eye captures details that are evocative, absurd and sordid.
The bruised, pockmarked belly caused by injections. The factory-like procession of patients. The clinical, empathy-deficient exam room encounters. The hormone-induced rants. The wall of baby photos. The money-driven doctors. The exhaustion and the waiting. The judgemental and sympathetic family members. It’s all there — and you’re only into the first few minutes of the film.
It goes without saying, you will want to be in a good head space when you view this movie.
Private Life Goes Deep
Through carefully considered camera angles, lighting and subtle expression, Private Life brings to light the nuance and complexity of infertility and the painful reality of IVF. Rachel and Rich, the complicated, earnest main characters portrayed by Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti, are believable and honest. While they doggedly fight to overcome infertility, they also wrestle with the existential. Their dialogue is, by turns, impatient, searching, tender, cynical and spot on.
The film opens with the sounds of sighing and whispers. The sensuous curve of a woman’s hip appears full screen followed by the introduction of a large needle. A forthright jab, writhing and exclamations caused by a burning sensation bring into stark focus the impersonal period 36 hours before egg extraction. In the next scene there are no joyful faces or conversation, just bowed heads in the IVF clinic waiting room. The camera pans out with powerful effect to show how many couples are in line for ‘The Retrieval.’
We witness a home study for adoption meeting done in tandem with IVF. Rachel and Rich are tired but determined as they argue and make up. Each attempt to juggle and pursue all available avenues to parenthood presents new hurdles. Friends and family look on with a sometimes toxic mix of exasperation, confusion, pity and disbelief. (And, yes, there is the requisite clueless friend who offers up an intro to a cousin who “went through several rounds of IVF in her 40s with one ovary and now has two kids!”…yeah, I rolled my eyes, too.)
Private Life Doesn’t Pull Punches
Rachel snaps a photo of her swollen breasts and shares the shot in a text to Rich reaching for any faint, hopeful pregnancy sign.
Black humor abounds. For instance, Rachel arrives for ‘The Test’ on the morning of Halloween. The blood-draw technician, a pale-skinned expressionless woman, wears black devilish horns on her head.
Unlike the typical infertility or IVF film or television series portrayal, which tend toward the superficial, Private Life gets into the nitty gritty. Informed consent is depicted as a nurse thrusting a stack of papers at the couple, mid-procedure, for signature. The doctors are rapacious and heartless.
The film turns when a devoted, artistic college-aged step-niece arrives. Sadie provides levity and innocence to the story. I won’t get into any more of the plot. There is, however, a scene involving Rich at the clinic that fulfills a long-held fantasy. He explodes with righteous indignation. You will know it when you see it. You may even join me and spontaneously pump your fist. That’s it. No spoilers here.
Real Stories, Raw Emotions
I feel a kinship with Tamara Jenkins. It takes significant energy to relive the infertility and IVF experience. I know this from my own days and nights writing, editing and rewriting Silent Sorority. Tears would fall freely and frequently as my fingers tapped the keyboard. The raw emotions surfaced again and again.
In the news coverage that accompanied the release of this film, Jenkins is described as “publicly honoring a whispered-about emotional struggle.” She certainly does that and more. She felt a duty to get it right. In looking at other films and memoirs, and in writing this script, she said:
…to me it was always a story about a marriage and the existential crisis that this couple goes through and a mutual mid-life crisis story. That’s always the way I thought of it. The ending of the movie is about them and how they weathered this. And that, to me, was more important from a narrative point of view. And then, on another hand, I just felt like when I read other stories or memoirs and at the end it was like, ‘Hello! We got it!’ I just found it fucked up.
That was my motivation for Silent Sorority as well. It’s not about the physical battle (brutal as that was), but more the identity and relationship questions raised along the way.
Jenkins goes on to point out, “Most of the time, it [IVF] doesn’t work. Statistically most of IVF, as we’d have to look at the numbers, doesn’t always work.”
If by some chance you read this review, Tamara, you are welcome any time to join us for an online interview. Ping me ptsigdinos (@) yahoo dot com. Meanwhile, thank you. You’ve done a great service conceiving this story and delivering this film. Pun intended.
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