Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Normal Heart

Movie Name: The Normal Heart
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Ryan Murphy
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, Julia Roberts, Alfred Molina, BD Wong, Stephen Spinella, Jonathan Groff, Sean Meehan, Adam B. Shapiro, Finn Wittrock, Denis O'Hare, Corey Stoll, Frank De Julio, William DeMeritt
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Prolific writer/producer/director Ryan Murphy followed his big budget adaptation of the Elizabeth Gilbert book "Eat, Pray, Love" with this adaptation of the play by celebrated author and activist, Larry Kramer. Originally written in 1985, the film follows the story of Ned Weeks (a fictionalized version of Larry Kramer), who in the early 80s is already known and celebrated as a writer, and who is openly gay. As the film starts, Ned is traveling to Fire Island in order to celebrate the birthday of one of his good friends. The film starts chronicling the evolution of the AIDS virus in the early 80s, before it was identified as such, and how public authorities denied any assistance and even acknowledgement of the virus which was eradicating such large numbers of young men. Ned witnesses this, and as his shock and fury increase, the response of his friends and co-activists doesn't echo his sentiments and approach. Things get worse, when Ned's partner, Felix, is diagnosed with the virus, and Ned has to witness his rapid decay, without being able to do much for his assistance. 
"The Normal Heart" is a powerful film that depicts the harsh realities of what was living with AIDS in the early 80s, particularly in New York, and particularly surrounding the stigma of the ailment, and the lack of support most medical facilities and activists had when it came to helping those in need. It's a film that covers some of the same subject matters that Norman René captured so perfectly in "Longtime Companion", Roger Spottiswoode captured in "And The Band Played On" and even Jonathan Demme did with "Philadelphia". What's so specific about "The Normal Heart" is the way it captures Ned Weeks' incessant pursuit of acknowledgement, his cry-outs for attention, for everyone to focus and pay attention to an epidemic that is rapidly killing thousands of gay men. What's also interesting about the film, is that the characters are not portrayed sanctimoniously - everyone on the group of characters surrounding Ned are deeply human, flawed and at times, exasperating (much like Ned himself). It's a film that is ambitious, but manages to deftly capture the reality of what was living with such a destructive ailment in the early 80s, at a time when the government and all institutions refused to acknowledge not just the virus, but most importantly, the people suffering from it. The performances from the entire cast are uniformly great, with highlights going to the stupendous Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Alfred Molina, Jim Parsons and Julia Roberts. A good film worth watching and revisiting.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Movie Name: Bohemian Rhapsody
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Bryan Singer, Dexter Fletcher
Stars: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Allen Leech, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker, Meneka Das, Ace Bhatti, Priya Blackburn, Dermot Murphy, Dickie Beau
Genre: Drama, Music
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
View Trailer

Synopsis & Review:
Following his latest directorial installment in the X-Men series, "Apocalypse", director Bryan Singer has tackled the biopic genre, focusing this time around, on the iconic rock band Queen. Of course this film has made headlines due to the fact that Bryan Singer was in reality fired from his directorial chair earlier in 2018, with Dexter Fletcher taking the mantle from him and directing the remainder of what needed to be shot. The film follows the story of the charismatic leader of the band, Freddie Mercury, as he gets acquainted with the band in 1970, then under the name of Smile. The band quickly evolves to the formation that made them so popular, and quickly signs a contract to release their debut album. Their chemistry is palpable, and so is their unconventional approach to music creation (and recording). Freddie's natural performing skills also become all too noticeable. In parallel we observe how Freddie becomes aware of his burgeoning homosexuality, and how that has a huge impact on his life, specifically his relationships with the band, family and friends. The film follows their ups and downs, till they reunite again for the Live Aid performance in 1985, at which time Freddie is already dealing with the AIDS virus and the mortal sentence, that at that time, was associated with it.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" is a film that feels trite, artificial and populated with every single music biopic cliche that is fathomable. The director(s) clearly wanted to check as many of these cliches as they could possibly do, namely: the misunderstood lead singer, the debacle with drugs, the promiscuity and fall from grace, the internal squabbles, the redemption, the coming to terms with their own truth. The film falters in delivering a portrayal of any of the band's team members as actual characters - they're all thinly developed, the same applying for Freddie, the main focus of the film. For someone as charismatic and as engrossing as Freddie Mercury was, there's never any real insight into what propelled him to be who he was. There's no real insight into what made him write the songs he wrote, or perform the way he did, or loved the men/women he actually pursued. The director tried to capture a wide canvas from when the band was created, all the way through 1985, at which point it basically replicates the performance Queen gave at Live Aid. It's a film where every single live performance feels deceptively staged and artificial, unlike what Bradley Cooper was able to capture with his recent "A Star is Born" for instance. Even Rami Malek's performance as Freddie Mercury lacks the irreverence, humor, energy and sexiness that Freddie Mercury always exuded. What made him such a great performer was the joy he managed to convey - the film, in an attempt to portray Freddie as someone haunted by his sexuality, highjacks that, making this character (and his obtrusive teeth) more of a shadow, and not a real person (not to mention his homosexuality is illustrated as a cliche from what gay people were perceived as in the 70s). There's questionable taste displayed throughout the film, with conflicting points of view emerging, between Bryan Singer's stylistic flourishes and Dexter Fletcher's contributions, with some transitions, meant to illustrate the 70s timeline, coming across as tacky and not so much as funny/irreverent. It's a sad waste of talent, and the film is a pale representation of the eclectic, rich, and iconic music produced by a talented group of musicians. A forgettable film from a director who has shown promise, but who stumbles more often than not.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Movie Name: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Year of Release: 2003
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Damian O'Hare, Giles New, Angus Barnett, Kevin McNally
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Director Gore Verbinski followed his unexpected success "The Ring", with what turned out to be one of his biggest calling cards, the adaptation of a Disney themed ride, "Pirates of the Caribbean". The film follows the story of an unlikely duo, a resourceful blacksmith by the name of Will Turner, and the savvy and exotic captain, Jack Sparrow. They both join forces, since Will wants to retrieve the love of his life, Elizabeth Swann, from a morally bankrupt kidnapper, by the name of Barbossa, while Jack wants to retrieve the ship which Barbossa is currently using, his very own Black Pearl. What they both don't realize is that Barbossa and his crew storm the oceans under a terrible curse, and achieving their goals is going to be all the more challenging due to that.
"Pirates of the Caribbean" started what has turned out to be one of the most successful modern film franchises. Sadly as the series has progressed, its already thinly put together story and architecture has only become thinner and thinner (how many times can the same story be told - apparently 5 already). The film, as most in the series, showcases an impressive technical wizardry and production design, but it's a film where most characters are sketches, and where all action is filled with pyrotechnics or special effects to basically amplify what is a very thin concept. What has been the driving and differentiating force to these films has been the creative input of Johnny Depp. He's never been better in this series, as he was in this first film, where his take on the pirate with a heart of gold, is mischievous, anarchic, humorous and punkish. It's an iconic presence and performance, in what is an otherwise predictable and by the numbers action film, one that is nonetheless shot with a style indebted to Gore Verbinski's previous career as a successful commercials director (and his stylistic choices have always been impeccable throughout his career). The supporting cast is colorful, even if only Geoffrey Rush makes a character that is somewhat memorable. The cinematography from Darius Wolski is fantastic, as is the production design by Brian Morris. A somewhat entertaining film from an interesting director.

Suspiria

Movie Name: Suspiria
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ingrid Caven, Sylvie Testud, Malgorzata Bela, Angela Winkler, Alek Wek, Jessica Batut, Elena Fokina, Renee Soutendijk, Christine Leboute, Olivia Ancona, Majon Van der Schot, Doris Hick, Clementine Houdart, Vanda Capriolo
Genre: Thriller, Horror, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
View Trailer

Synopsis & Review:
Director Luca Guadagnino continues his unique career path, following the astounding (and well deserved) success of "Call Me By Your Name". His new film is a remake, or a re-imagining, of the film by the same name which was directed by Dario Argento in 1977. The film follows the story of Susie Bannion, a young American woman, who comes to Berlin to enroll in a well known dance school. When Susie auditions, she immediately impresses the teaching body of the school with her innate capacity and expressiveness. Madame Blanc in particular, the head teacher and choreographer is captivated by her talents. Susie, with her quiet demeanor, quickly makes friends with Sara, another of the lead dancers. The school is still haunted by the disappearance of Patricia, another dancer/student, who apparently joined the RAF, but who has seemingly vanished, which leads her doctor/therapist to report the case with the police. Patricia mentioned in one of her last sessions that the school was in fact a coven of witches and that they were trying to seize her in some macabre ritual. Susie starts experiencing nightmares and visions, as the strange occurrences start piling up.
"Suspiria" is a film that is definitely going to cause some division among viewers. Much like the director's previous features, it's a film that perfectly/deftly marries his point of view, with a stylistic and aesthetic quality that is both memorable and impressive. In this case, the narrative takes place in Germany in 1977, back when both sides of the wall were still at odds, and when all sorts of political terrorism was still going on (something that the film depicts, by constantly showcasing the coups that are occurring on the news). The film very interestingly, marries the style and cinematography from German films from that timeframe, particularly the ones associated with talented film makers such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder (and his collaboration with the celebrated cinematographer Michael Ballhaus). The director initially builds the environment and the relationships between the characters, until the scheming and agenda behind the school's principals/workers becomes all too apparent. When the film finally comes to its epilogue, it really aims to respect the original, and be almost a bit too gruesome, but it is nevertheless done in tone with what the film has been building up to. It's a film that will leave a lasting impression, and which features two great performances by Tilda Swinton, and a revelatory one from Mia Goth (Dakota Johnson sadly, remains a very passive figure/performer, devoid of charismas). The score from Thom Yorke is effective, as is the beautiful cinematography from Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. A fantastic and inventive film from a truly unique voice in cinema.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Haunting of Hill House

TV Show Name: The Haunting of Hill House
Year of Release: 2018
Created by: Mike Flanagan
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Timothy Hutton, Elizabeth Reaser, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, McKenna Grace, Paxton Singleton, Julian Hiliard, Violet McGraw, Anthony Ruivivar, Annabeth Gish, Robert Longstreet, Samantha Sloyan
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer

Synopsis:
As Netflix continues their continuous output of self generated material, a good show comes in the way of Mike Flanagan's "The Haunting of Hill House". Flanagan, who directed last year's "Gerald's Game" also for Netflix, is at the helm of this show, both as the creator, and also director of all episodes of the show. "The Haunting of Hill House" is an adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel of the same name, first published in 1959, and previously adapted to the big screen by Robert Wise in 1963 and Jan de Bont in 1999. Unlike the previous versions, this adaptation takes the story in a somewhat different direction. The show focuses on a specific family, comprised of father Hugh, mother Liv and their 5 children, named Steven, Shirley, Theo, Luke and Nell. The story oscillates between the early 90s, when the children are still growing up, and the present time, when they're all adults. In the past, the family buys an old mansion, in the hopes of renovating it, selling it, and then moving on to another project. However, once the family moves in, supernatural events and occurrences start manifesting themselves, first subtly, then more visibly. In the present, there's tension between the siblings, particularly when it comes to Steven, a published author, who wrote a book based on the experiences of the family with the paranormal events that they encountered in the house. Between disbelief, animosity, and guilt, the siblings and their estranged father, are forced to come to terms with each other when Nell, the youngest daughter, commits suicide, something that ties and pulls everyone back to the house. 
Mike Flanagan is a very intelligent writer/director, having built a career, thus far, in making films that may be labeled as "horror" and "fantastic", but that in reality, are finely layered, and go beyond the tropes usually associated with the genre. "The Haunting of Hill House" is a fine example of his narrative skills: the series allows the characters within the nuclear family to be flushed out, first as children, then as grown ups, showcasing the scars that characters carry with them from trouble youths to adulthood. The director explores the different relationships between the characters, before unleashing the supernatural, which usually unsettles the proceedings, most of the times functioning as a catalyst to either bind the relationships between the characters, or clear up conflicts that have been haunting them (which for instance, he used in one of his previous films, "Oculus"). "The Haunting of Hill House" is in some ways, like a mix between Alan Ball's "Six Feet Under" and something written and devised by Stephen King - it's sufficiently macabre to hold one's attention, but it also has a pulsating heart and family dynamics/conflict, to render the characters more relatable and realistic. It's a show that is impeccably shot, courtesy of cinematographer Michael Fimognari, with an equally consistent cast, with the always solid Carla Gugino and the reliable Timothy Hutton leading the group. Worth watching.

Monster

Movie Name: Monster
Year of Release: 2003
Director: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Marco St. John, Marc Macaulay, Scott Wilson, Tim Ware, Brett Rice
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After directing a few shorts, director Patty Jenkins made her auspicious directorial debut with "Monster". The film is inspired and follows the story of Aileen Wuornos, a convicted serial criminal, accused and considered guilty for the death of seven men, who was later imprisoned and executed in 2002. The film introduces us to Aileen as a young girl, already being abused, quickly transitioning to her life as a young woman, and her desperate attempts at being loved, which also capture her path into prostitution (in very broad strokes). Aileen's life suffers a spark of change when she accidentally meets the young Selby. The two initially form an unlikely friendship, that rapidly becomes a romantic entanglement. While Aileen has a client, to make ends meet, she suddenly has to deal with a potential fatal situation, which prompts her to take action into her own hands, leading her on a dangerous and dramatic path. Looking to escape the place of crime, she and Selby decide to move to Southern Florida, where the troubles once again loom and appear.
Patty Jenkins started her career very strongly with this portrayal of one of the very few female serial killers in the US. The film captures primarily the relationship that is established between Aileen and Selby, both women trying to connect and bond, whose lives had been met with ostracism, loneliness and in the case of Aileen, abuse. The film is particularly impactful due to the herculean presence of Charlize Theron, who is truly unrecognizable in the film, and who imbues the character with a sadness, longing, despair and vitality unlike anything that she had done thus far. Her grittiness and verisimilitude in playing Aileen, marries perfectly with Patty Jenkins' approach to shooting the film realistically, almost documentary style, capturing the barely there existence of marginalized individuals. It's such a towering performance that at times it almost swallows the entire existence of the film and the thread that is trying to weave, but the character is always humane, heartfelt, even if her actions are monstrous and violent. The supporting cast is peripheral, but uniformly good, from Christina Ricci to the always underrated Bruce Dern. It's a strong film from a director who has had little chance to expand her palette, but who can hopefully tackle more challenging material soon (beyond comic book characters, which she has explored with "Wonder Woman"). 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Matrix Revolutions

Movie Name: The Matrix Revolutions
Year of Release: 2003
Director: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Harold Perrineau, David Roberts, Lambert Wilson, Monica Belluci, Mary Alice, Jade Pinkett Smith, Collin Chou, Harry Lennix, Anthony Zerbe, Bruce Spence, Gina Torres, Nona Gaye, Essie Davis, Ian Bliss, Clayton Watson, Bernard White
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Both "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions" were shot simultaneously, even if they were released months apart. If the first was met with superlative expectations, following the film's release, there was a collective disappointment, as if the directing team had taken the story into directions that were almost incomprehensible for the audience. The conclusion to Neo's saga, finds the hero and his partner, Trinity, going to the location of the genesis of the war, situated at the core of the Machine world. The rest of the group, including Morpheus, Niobe and Link, go back to Zion, in order to protect what is left of the human enclave from the machine attack. While the group fights valiantly, it's finally up to Neo to go back into the Matrix and defeat Agent Smith, who, much like a rapidly disseminating virus, has taken over all of the Matrix ecosystem, endangering the sustainability of all human and machine life. 
In the vein of what I wrote previously concerning "The Matrix Reloaded", also applies to this sequel. The writer/director team, aimed to expand the universe they had created so successfully with the first film, but in these sequels, they peppered the experience with more of everything, without creating balance between story exposition, visual effects and interminable action sequences. What made the original "The Matrix" so inventive, was the capacity to draw this new world in an economical way, mixing notions of philosophy and religion with the trappings of a sophisticated action film. The sequels in comparison, diminished the storytelling, and made the universe more opaque and dense, while increasing the duration of the action sequences for no particular reason. "The Matrix Revolutions" again repeats the issues of the previous film: Zion's attack for instance goes on and on, with a multitude of digital effects pulverizing the human resistance, yet there's never a real feeling of dread nor menace. It's a film that over indulges in visual effects to squelch the sweet tooth of the audience, never realizing that they're making everyone diabetic. The film is unbalanced, and leaves very little for Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss to do, when in the original they gave the film the humor, gravitas and sexiness that it had. It's a film that closes a saga that could have been better explored, but that nonetheless contains traces of a more interesting film, something that the directors would tackle going forward, with their ambitious "Cloud Atlas". 

Halloween

Movie Name: Halloween
Year of Release: 2018
Director: David Gordon Green
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle, Toby Huss, Haluk Bilginer, Will Patton, Rhian Rees, Miles Robbins
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis & Review:
Eclectic director David Gordon Green is back, this time around tackling one of the most iconic horror movie franchises of the last forty years. The film drinks heavily in style, ambiance and characters from John Carpenter's iconic 1978 staple of the same name. This time around, the film introduces us to an older Laurie Strode, who has become a hardened survivor following the events of the original film (this film discards all the interminable sequels that were done during the 80s, 90s and the more recent - and terrible - Rob Zombie ventures into the franchise). Laurie is estranged from her daughter and grand-daughter, due to the fact that she simply can't get the past behind her. Michael is still imprisoned, and to all matters and purposes, has absolutely no emotion, speech capacity or reaction. However, when he's about to be transferred to a new treatment facility, he manages to escape, and goes back to Haddonfield, in order to finish what he started 40 years ago. It's up to Laurie, and her resourcefulness, to escape the menace from an unstoppable killer.
David Gordon Green is a very smart and resourceful director. Initially having made a name for himself with a handful of stunning independent features, the director started testing out other genres and styles, some with more success than others (for every "George Washington", "All the Real Girls" and "Snow Angels" for instance, there's always less successful fare such as "Your Highness" and "The Sitter"). "Halloween", which followed last year's "Stronger", captures a lot of what made John Carpenter's original feature such an iconic film: the killer is unstoppable, undeterred and there is no reasoning or bargaining with him. He is very much like a terminator, only operating in a typical suburb, and apparently unstoppable. It's a film that relies primarily on the relationships that it builds around the central characters, with Jamie Lee Curtis creating a version of Laurie, that is eroded by years of living with the fear or being attacked again, and who has become a resilient survivor. This fixation of hers, has also alienated the rest of her family, but as the menace looms, there's a family bonding that is restored. The film has a more humanistic perspective than the original, which isolated Laurie and made her somewhat more reactive. Even if the film doesn't bring as much of a departure to the content and style of this franchise, it's still an interesting take on a series that has lasted and has influenced so much of the horror films produced since the 80s. Worth watching.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Miami Blues

Movie Name: Miami Blues
Year of Release: 1990
Director: George Armitage
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nora Dunn, Charles Napier, Obba Babatunde, Edward Saxon, Paul Gleason, Shirley Stoler
Genre: Crime, Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
"Miami Blues" was a film originally envisioned to be directed by celebrated film maker Jonathan Demme, who decided to entrust this film to his collaborator George Armitage, a director who had made his mark in the 70s, and hadn't tackled any projects since then. The crew of this film is still largely comprised of Jonathan Demme's accomplices, from cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, to the producers, editor (Craig McKay) and much of the supporting cast (including Charles Napier and Obba Babatunde for instance). The film follows the story of dangerous criminal Fred Frenger Jr., who gets out of prison, and heads off to Miami. While there he immediately gets into trouble, first while leaving the airport, when he attacks a member of the Hare Krishna, followed by a series of misdemeanors. He gets acquainted with the pretty and vulnerable student/prostitute Susie Waggoner, and they're soon making plans to live together. His erratic and dangerous behavior is soon being tracked by veteran police officer Hoke Moseley. His tracking skills uncover some of the things Junior has been doing, who in turn shows up at the detective's home, attacking him and in the process, taking his badge, gun and dentures. He suddenly starts busting criminals, mostly so he can get the loot in the process, causing distress to Moseley, while the seriousness of crimes gets progressively more intense.
"Miami Blues" is a film that while retaining the grittiness of George Armitage's films from the 70s, it also blends the style with what Jonathan Demme had been doing in the 80s. The film is almost a companion piece to "Something Wild", but with reversed roles. Alec Baldwin, then riding the start of his career, right after having great roles in Jonathan Demme's "Married to the Mob", Mike Nichols' "Working Girl", Oliver Stone's "Talk Radio" and Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice", creates a memorable character, equally vulnerable, menacing and seductive. Jennifer Jason Leigh is equally fantastic, creating a character that is naive, but also resilient and sweet. It's a film that walks an interesting line between being comedic, violent, sexy and dramatic. The director manages to tie all these elements somewhat coherently, even if it's not as engaging as Jonathan Demme's "Something Wild". Some of the characters are thinly characterized, and quickly abandoned, but it's nonetheless an interesting film from a director and creative team always worth revisiting. 

Private Life

Movie Name: Private Life
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Tamara Jenkins
Stars: Paul Giamatti, Kathryn Hahn, Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch, Denis O'Hare, Kayli Carter, Emily Robinson, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Desmin Borges
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer

Synopsis & Review:
In the three decades that she's been working, director Tamara Jenkins has delivered three features. "Private Life", which Netflix just released (October of 2018) is the third, following the fantastic "The Savages" (released in 2007) and the equally great "Slums of Beverly Hills", which was her feature directorial debut (from 1998). "Private Life" tracks the life of couple Richard and Rachel, who are in the throws of trying to conceive. They've tried the adoption path, which proved unsuccessful and time consuming, and we find them in the middle of trying to go through with IVF. The process is painful, expensive, and causes stress on both of them. They've been together for a while, but waited to have children, in order to accomplish certain milestones in their professional careers. Additional challenges occur when Richard has some health issues, but they finally get a shot of some optimism, when their step niece agrees to donate one of her eggs to be fertilized. That unfortunately throws a wrench into their family dynamics, particularly with Richard's sister in law.
Tamara Jenkins' films have a way to draw complex family dynamics in ways that are arresting, dynamic and never quite the expected. "Private Life" is no exception - the central couple, clearly living comfortably in NY, are dealing with tremendous challenges as they're trying relentlessly to have a child, which in turn leaves them with almost no time to actually look at each other, and be supportive of each other. This challenge consumes and has consumed their entire existence, which is something that their extended family clearly notices. The director draws this microcosms of relationships really well, showcasing how Molly Shannon's character, Cynthia, is a voice of dissent, while Sadie, becomes a beacon of hope, but also another element of further contention. It's a film that is so focused in showcasing the characters single driven pursuit, that it forgets at times to showcase a bit more of these interesting characters (and pepper it with some humor), with Sadie actually becoming the more interesting one - she's the one who has diverse interests, who wants to pursue things, who wants to have a full life. The film veers at times into Woody Allen territories, particularly with the intellectual and arts centric couple of a certain age at the core of the action, but it retains its own heart and identity, as can be witnessed as the film comes to its closure. Paul Giamatti, Kathryn Hahn, Molly Shannon and John Carroll Lynch are all fantastic. A very good film from a very interesting director.