In the work of writer and director Tamara Jenkins, making her first feature since 2007's similarly unsparing The Savages, the unsaid often gets said in outbursts of verbal fireworks. Insults fly like bottle rockets; truths explode and fill rooms like smoke bombs. Rachel and Richard's East Village apartment, with worn-out books stacked in the fireplace and explicit paintings made by friends hanging on the walls, becomes an emotional foxhole, a retreat from the sterile, science-fiction like interiors of doctor's offices and waiting rooms. But even in the foxhole, no one is safe.
The first section of the film is divided into chapter-like passages with foreboding on screen titles -- "The Retrieval," "The Transfer," "The Home Study," "The Test" -- and they help the viewer understand the highly regimented demands of the situation. While it's never made completely clear why Rachel and Richard want a baby, we quickly understand they've taken a wide-reaching approach, pursuing In Vitro Fertilization and adoption. When we meet them, they're already questioning their own choices. "We're not insane," says an exasperated Richard to Rachel early on. "We're normal." He clings to a mantra for stability: All they need is one good egg.
Eventually, they become convinced that Richard's 25-year-old niece Sadie (Kayli Carter) might have that egg. (Yes, it's complicated: Richard's brother is Sadie's step-father, so they're not technically related.) Sadie, an aspiring writer who recently took a leave of absence from Bard, much to the chagrin of her mother Cynthia (Molly Shannon), is the movie's broadest comic creation. Unembarrassed and undaunted, she has the performative cynicism and half-formed opinions of a young person raised in the privilege of suburbia but yearning for an idealized, outdated version of life in a big city. Jenkins gives her withering takes about the literary magazine Tin House and irony-soaked lines about cherished cultural artifacts. "I thought everything was supposed to be all gentrified now," she says when she arrives in Rachel and Richard's neighborhood. "It's so Serpico."