Rachel and Richard are a couple their niece Sadie looks up to – their tiny NYC apartment has cachet because of they live and work in the arts. When she drops out of college, it is natural for her to turn to them for support and a place to crash – much cooler than her parents’ place in the suburbs.
But as Sadie’s parents know, Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) aren’t exactly living a carefree life. They are deep in the throes of a fertility struggle. They’ve tried everything, and they’re still trying multiple strategies at once, which requires careful juggling and judicious lying (the adoption people want to hear that IVF is behind you). Like any couple wanting a baby they can’t have, they’ve suffered heartbreak. As the technologies and treatments proliferate, so too does the potential for loss. These people have suffered in ways my privileged uterus hasn’t even heard of – including a catfishing scam I can only wonder at. Still, Rachel and Richard persist, even in the face of their family’s disapproval and the strain on their bank account and the stress on their marriage. But they balk when the doctor suggests an egg donor – or Rachel does, feeling cut out of the deal. But then the young woman living in their home starts to feel like an option – it’s just a delicate matter of how to ask the vulnerable, tetherless niece to do something that will affect her profoundly for the rest of her life? Is that even fair?
This is a movie about fertility, but even more so, it’s a movie expressing rage against the lie that women can have it all. Rachel has delayed kids for career and the price is high. Her husband is sympathetic but ultimately this is her worth as a woman being questioned and her body betraying them, even as she ravages it with attempt after attempt. Private Life is about the ebb and flow of hope and what it does, long-term, to a marriage.