A middle-aged couple tries any means available to them to add a child to their family.
Directed by Tamara Jenkins
Starring Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti
Review by Jon Kissel
Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life begins with a suggestion that its central couple is in physical love with each other, as Kathryn Hahn’s Rachel and Paul Giamatti’s Richard are lying side by side on their bed together. Jenkins’ camera is at waist level, Richard asks if Rachel’s ready, he pulls her underwear aside, and… sticks her with a syringe. This is a couple desperate to have a baby, but sex doesn’t enter into the picture; based on this first scene, there’s only more pain for Rachel than she expected and exhaustion for Richard. As they both try and thwart their mid-life crises by starting a new life, Rachel and Richard go through a very difficult year of treatments and interviews and anticipation and disappointment in one of those movies that addresses How We Live Now. Jenkins joins Lynne Ramsay and Debra Granik as female directors who inexplicably had to wait years and years to put out their next film, only to grace 2018 with their particular strengths and perceptiveness towards all the joy and misery mixed up with being alive.
Nerd idol Edgar Wright has been pumping out references and homages to cultural totems for a few decades, dating back to his English sitcom Spaced that he created with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. This trio would go on to make their Cornetto Trilogy of rapid-fire comedic genre films with, for me at least, diminishing returns, and Wright’s forays into summer filmmaking haven’t hit the nail on the head either. Baby Driver was too eccentric for my tastes, as is Scott Pilgrim vs the World. A cult hit that failed to find much of an audience in its theatrical run, Scott Pilgrim is a movie-as-video-game, kinetic and vaguely nonsensical with graphical and audio flourishes that work on those who’ve dug deep into the hidden properties of… checks notes… Seinfeld and The Legend of Zelda. This action comedy for the hipster set is both narrow in its appeal and broad in its references. There’s fun to be had in certain corners, but Wright is throwing an exhausting amount at the wall. Some sticks, and some pathetically drips down to the floor.
Eddie Murphy’s had several attempts at comebacks in the 21st century, all of which peter out into an inability to capitalize on the reservoir of goodwill that keeps those comebacks alive. His wild onscreen choices and his offscreen antics keep prompting the need to go away and reemerge. Murphy was all set to win an Oscar in 2006 with his role in Dreamgirls, but that was supposedly blown by the release of Norbit in the midst of Oscar voting. He was awarded with the Mark Twain Prize for American Comedy in 2015 and later appeared on SNL’s 40th anniversary telecast, but he didn’t even crack a joke when the audience was thirsty to embrace him. The reception to Dolemite is My Name and the forthcoming sequel to Coming in America place Murphy at yet another turning point, where he can stay in the good graces of a public that so badly wants him around or capitalize on this moment by taking a bag full of money to do some hacky high concept comedy where he plays a dozen different roles.
Nicolas Winding Refn works at two opposite poles, with raw crime stories at one end and deliberately frosty exercises in audience estrangement at the other. Whether he’s making Drive or Valhalla Rising, there’s always going to be a mostly silent protagonist surrounded by people Refn largely doesn’t like and a lot of red, both in the lighting or as an aftereffect from some grotesque act of violence. For the Danish director’s 10th film, The Neon Demon is a balanced medium between what makes him compelling and frustrating. It tells a coherent story with recognizable people in it, but it also contains surrealist touches that are included because why the hell not. A film set in fashion and modeling is going to have the requisite amount of style and misanthropy, because making fun of the fashion world is low hanging fruit. That I can describe a film with corpse fondling and cannibalism as middle-of-the-road suggests what kind of filmmaker Refn is.
Darren Aronofsky is a director who lives in the extremity of human experience, for good and ill. Something like Requiem for a Dream tracks the depths that people are willing to descend to for their narrow definition of happiness, while his self-described Perfection duo, The Wrestler and Black Swan, are both about performers dedicated to feats of physical excellence despite the damage this does to their psyches and bodies. He’s also an obvious devotee of body horror master David Cronenberg, a guy who made his bones by taking the psychological ailments of his characters and manifesting them in decaying flesh and pulsing tumors. Black Swan is Cronenbergian body horror shot through with Aronofsky’s bravura directorial flourishes, a film about transformation and transcendence that includes breathtaking moment after breathtaking moment. It’s also campy and melodramatic and soapy, and maybe sexist depending how one views it. Nine years after its release, Black Swan is still a thrilling and powerful watch that holds up cinematically even as I wonder if it holds up thematically.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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