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Prime (A Movie Review)

PRIME (2005)

Starring Meryl Streep, Uma Thurman, Bryan Greenberg, Jon Abrahams, Adriana Biasi, David Younger, Palmer Brown, Zac Orth, Annie Parisse, Aubrey Dollar, Jerry Adler, Doris Belack, Ato Essandoh, David Anzuelo, Naomi Aborn, John Rothman, Jonathan Roumie, Tag O'Mordha, Madhur Jaffrey, Gil Deeble, Jason McDonald and Lotte Mandel.

Screenplay by Ben Younger.

Directed by Ben Younger.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13.

The biggest mystery of this movie... besides why it is titled Prime (at one point Meryl Streep points out that Uma Thurman's character and her new boyfriend are in their sexual primes, but there has to be more to it than that, doesn't there?) ... is how it is possible for a romantic comedy with such a contrived old sitcom plot could actually be as good as it turns out to be.

Prime is one of those "it's a small world after all" cases of lives coincidentally intersecting with each other – the kind of intersections that almost never happen in the sprawling, crowded Metropolis of New York, where the movie takes place. In Manhattan, everything is so spread out and so jam-packed that you can go months without running into anyone you know just by chance. However, in this film, as in so many other comedies of its type, people run into each other all the time.

Uma Thurman plays Rafi (short for Rafiela), a 37-year-old professional who is getting divorced. Though she was not happy in her marriage, the actual split has her distraught, feeling lonely and hearing the ticking of her biological clock.

She sniffles through her weekly session with her psychiatrist about the direction of her life. Dr. Lisa Metzger (Meryl Streep) is a smart, sophisticated Jewish woman who is very in tune with her patient's lives, though her relationship with her family is somewhat more strained. She nags her daughter to stay off the phone and her son to bring home a nice, Jewish girl and make her a grandma. She also does not take his artistic inspirations seriously, pressuring him to give up his pipe dreams and get a real job.

One night at a revival theater in the Village, a gay friend of Rafi's introduces her to a guy in line that he knows from work. David is younger than Rafi (he is twenty-three) and is there with a date, but there is an unmistakable spark between the two. They go out and Rafi is seriously intrigued, but bothered is by the age difference.

That isn't the only difference, there is also a religious difference (he is Jewish, she is Catholic). She has a good, high-paying job and he barely works. Also, Prime drops in the vague hint of political strife that is slipped into the dialogue of one scene but never touched on again; it would appear that he is a Democrat, and she is a conservative. (Maybe more on that will show up in the inevitable DVD outtakes.) David has fewer worries about their relationship, he's totally taken by the willowy shiksah goddess, though his mother would prefer him to marry in his religion. However, as time goes on, the problems start to grate on him too.

David is played with confident affability by movie newbie Bryan Greenberg, who had previously played a fictionalized version of himself in last year's HBO struggling-actors’ series Unscripted. In fact, that series showed Greenberg getting this role and working on the set with crew and costars Streep and Thurman, giving it a reality-TV vibe though it was not a reality show.

There is a big complication, though. I apologize if this is a spoiler for the film. Normally I wouldn't even mention it, but the plot complication is a huge plot point and very flagrantly outed in all of the coming attraction trailers, TV ads and press for the movie, so I have to assume that anyone who cares enough to read this story will already know the plot twist. Rafi's new, younger lover is Dr. Metzger's son. Honestly, the good doctor pieces together this bit of info a little too easily... the city is full of 23-year-old men named David who live in the Village, want to be artists, and don't use Q-Tips... but when she makes the connection Dr. Metzger is in a very awkward position with her patient. Can she continue to see the woman and help her mental health when she is forced to hear very private information about her own son?

It seems like a blatant conflict of interest; however, Dr. Metzger's own therapist convinces her that it would be unfair to cast her longtime patient aside for what may be a brief fling. However, as things become increasingly serious, the doctor has to balance her responsibilities as a therapist with her responsibilities as a mother. Streep makes it easy, capturing just the right balance between comic (when she is reacting to information, she should not be privy to) and dramatic. And no big surprise for an actress renowned for her ability to disappear into a character and an accent, but she really nails being a middle-aged Jewish mother.

The whole story by Ben Younger (isn't it ironic the story of a December-May romance would be written and directed by a man named Younger) isn't really overly plausible, but he takes great pains to make sure that it is possible. He stacks the deck a little to make the scenario fly – the doctor uses her maiden name in her practice so that they have different names, Rafi has apparently never noticed the pictures of her family in her office, David knows she goes to a therapist but never asked who it was in case his mother knew the therapist – all of these things are improbable, but could happen.

In the end it all depends on whether or not you are willing to suspend disbelief and just flow with the story. The script and acting are good enough that most people will put their skepticism on hold and just enjoy all the joys that Prime offers. (10/05)

Ken Sharp

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: October 29, 2005.


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