Maven's Nest

Reel Life: Flick Pix

It takes an extended family to try and make a baby with humor.

By Nora Lee Mandel

Directed and Written by Tamara Jenkins
Produced by Anthony Bregman, Stefanie Azpiazu and Jenkins
Released by Netflix on 10/5/2018
USA. 123 min. Rated R
With Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Molly Shannon, Kayli Carter and John Carroll Lynch

(Preview and my capsule review on FF2 Media at 2018 New York Film Festival of Film at Lincoln Center)

Writer/director Tamara Jenkins’ first film since The Savages (2007) was inspired by her very personal experiences over the following decade to create a family with her husband, writer-producer Jim Taylor (Sideways). What she also created is a wry, very humanistic drama that’s full of the laughter of life, embodied by a wonderful ensemble who intersect across different stages of New York life in unexpected ways.

Family creation is first reduced to high-tech technology in Upper East Side doctors’ offices. A forty-something, artsy New York couple Rachel Biegler (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard Grimes (Paul Giamatti) are trying to become parents. That means hormone injections, IUI, IVF, egg retrievals and transfers, embryo storage, Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection, Testicular Sperm Extraction, lots of consent forms, marital stress, and tens of thousands of dollars. From their younger lives as avant-garde play writer turned novelist (she) and director turned artisan pickler (he), they have exhausted their baby-making budget.

They have to leave their East Village, that is gentrifying into respectability as much as they are, to drive out to the suburbs. Bracing for judgments, they have to again ask his brother Charlie (John Carroll Lynch) and sister-in-law Cynthia (Molly Shannon) for a loan. As sensitive as Jenkins is to the tensions and absurdities of the Manhattanites’ fertility tribulations, the relatives are warmly three-dimensional. Though Cynthia complains to her husband that her in-laws have become “fertility junkies”, she understands how heartbreaking have been the false hopes they’ve had with adoption efforts. In the New York Film Festival press conference, Jenkins noted she particularly wanted Shannon for this secondary role because a friend had thought this empty-nester mother as scripted was a “bitch”, so only Shannon could give her the necessary empathy.

Charlie is at a different family stage. His step-daughter Sadie Barrett (Kayli Carter) is in the process of dropping out of college, or, as she sees it, “taking an incomplete”. She’s sure she can stay downtown with “Uncle Cool” and Aunt Rachel, who she admires so much, and sell his pickles at farmers markets. Then the doctor lets Richard and Rachel know what they really need is a donor egg, and they start looking through websites of college women offering ovum.

Despite family objections, their lives get more biologically and emotionally intertwined, and their apartment fills with plenty of hormones and humor. (Rachel makes acerbic references from Rosemary’s Baby to The Handmaid's Tale; Sadie quotes a medical ethics class). With more than a little acrimony, all the women debate how the feminist babies vs. career paradigm did or will affect them. Though Sadie indulges in a bit of age-appropriate poor judgment, she is no stereotyped millennial, and Jenkins lets her mature into a promising writer. But key is Carter’s live wire performance. Primarily a theater actor so far, she is an exciting breath of fresh air on screen, more than holding her own with the impressive veterans around her.

Jenkins is fair to everyone’s stresses and choices, even when they need to let loose their grievances. To show that it’s all worthwhile, the film is dedicated to her daughter.

Originally posted 10/5/2018

Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Her reviews are counted in the Rotten Tomatoes TomatoMeter:
Complete Index to Nora Lee Mandel's Movie Reviews

Since August 2006, edited versions of most of my reviews of documentaries/indie/foreign films are at Film-Forward; since 2012, festival overviews at FilmFestivalTraveler; and, since 2016, coverage of women-made films at FF2 Media. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.

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