Rob Edelman: Full Frontal

Jan 14, 2019

PRIVATE LIFE, a new film that was released direct to Netflix, is the saga of a forty-something married couple and their issues while struggling to become parents. They are played by Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn. At one point in the film, which is scripted and directed by Tamara Jenkins, Kathryn Hahn appears nude. Even more specifically, her nudity is full frontal. Granted that birth, babies, and privacy are at the core of PRIVATE LIFE. The film is a generally entertaining and knowing look at the daily goings-on among contemporary New Yorkers as they struggle to survive in a less-than-hospitable culture. But still, what is the reason for ever-so-casually allowing Kathryn Hahn to appear in the buff? Will this somehow draw attention to her, and allow her to rise above the mass of talented actors of a certain age? Will this win her the most coveted roles? Will this keep her off the endless list of here-today-gone-tomorrow talents?

Kathryn Hahn now is in her mid-forties. She has appeared in films and on TV shows for a couple decades, without establishing herself as a solid A-list personality. So is her time passing? Specifically, will her appearance in PRIVATE LIFE keep her in the public eye? And generally, how will actors of both genders present themselves as they appear onscreen?

This brings to mind Julianne Moore, another top-talent. In 1993, Moore was casually full frontal in Robert Altman’s SHORT CUTS. This was not essential to the story line. However, did this allow her to somehow rise above her co-stars, which included Jack Lemmon and Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins and Lily Tomlin, Andie MacDowell and Frances McDormand?   

Prior to SHORT CUTS, Julianne Moore had appeared primarily in TV movies and mini-series. But her stock rose mightily after SHORT CUTS. I couldn’t begin to list all her post-1993 A-list credits and award-caliber performances; in 2015, she even earned a Best Actress Oscar for STILL ALICE. So is Julianne Moore’s success a matter of chance, or is it somehow linked to her unclothed presence in SHORT CUTS? The same question might be asked all these years later for Kathryn Hahn.

Finally, of course, nude scenes are not only connected to female actors. Anyone recall the presence of Bruce Willis in the little-known COLOR OF NIGHT, which dates from 1994?

Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

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