The camera zooms in on a woman’s bared stomach, as she lies sideways in bed facing the audience, unzipping her jeans. But anticipation of a steamy sex scene is dashed as the figure behind her takes out a large hypodermic needle and jabs her from behind. So begins “Private Life,” Tamara Jenkins’s piercing, spot-on film about infertility, unfurling unflinchingly through agony and love on the road to parenthood.
Rachel and Richard, a hip New York City couple, go through the indignity of in vitro fertilization (ivf), doctors invading their bodies and privacy, and, ultimately delivering devastating news. They will need an egg donor for a decent chance at success. Their deliberations about the donation proceed through grief, anger, and comedy.
Simultaneously with pursuing an egg donor, they continue with their equally disappointing efforts to adopt a baby. Flash back to the couple falling in love with a pretty young woman, who skypes with them and sends ultrasound photos of their future baby. In the next scene, they wait, heartbroken, in a restaurant hours away from home, where the scamming birth mother fails to show up.
When their adoring niece, Sadie, drops out of college and crashes with them, Rachel and Richard ask her to be their dreamed-of egg donor. Without reservation, Sadie accepts, telling them that she loves the idea of helping them become parents. Sadie’s mother asks the hard questions and begs her not to proceed, but Sadie ultimately convinces her mother that she truly wants to play this complicated, altruistic role in her aunt and uncle’s life.
The movie shies away from a definitive ending. Like Rachel and Richard, we do not know how their story ends, but they lasso their marriage out of despair and continue on their agonizing and loving quest to become parents.