Director : Ben Younger
Screenplay : Ben Younger
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Uma Thurman (Rafi Gardet), Meryl Streep (Lisa Metzger), Bryan Greenberg (David Bloomberg), Jon Abrahams (Morris), Zak Orth (Randall), Annie Parisse (Katherine), Aubrey Dollar (Michell)
If you’ve seen any of the trailers or TV commercials for Ben Younger’s Prime, you probably think it’s about something that it’s not really about. The advertisements for the film are an interesting case of purposeful misdirection, as they make it appear as though Prime is a light romantic comedy hinged on the idea of an older woman dating a younger man and unknowingly telling the man’s mother all about it because she also happens to be the woman’s psychiatrist. Yes, this is a subplot, but ultimately one that is largely inconsequential to what the film is really about, although the advertising gurus at Universal Pictures clearly saw it as an easy “hook” to lure in audiences.
The woman is Rafi Gardet (Uma Thurman), who is 37 and recently divorced from a loveless 9-year marriage. Soon thereafter, she meets and falls for David Bloomberg (Bryan Greenberg), a 23-year-old would-be painter. When Rafi tells this to her psychiatrist, Lisa Metzger (Meryl Streep), she is cautious about her feelings; even though she is giddy about the relationship, she fears that it can’t possibly go anywhere because of the substantial age difference. She is at a place in life where she hears her biological clock ticking away and wants children, but she fears that David is not ready for such responsibilities. Lisa encourages the relationship, feeling that it will be good for Rafi.
That is, of course, until Lisa realize that Rafi is dating her own son. This would seem to create a massive ethics issue, but Lisa’s own psychiatrist assures her that she should maintain therapy, even though she is listening to her patient divulge all sorts of secrets about her son. This scenario is further complicated by one of the story’s real issues, which is the fact that Lisa does not want David to be involved with someone who isn’t Jewish. Unlike the vast majority of characters in Hollywood movies, Lisa is not only religious, but takes her religion and her ethnic heritage very seriously and wants her son to do the same. In a sense, Lisa falls into the cliché overprotective “Jewish mother” role, but her concerns are well-founded enough and Meryl Streep balances her comic and dramatic qualities to the point that we fully understand and sympathize with her, even if we are frustrated with her narrow views.
The real heart of Prime is not in the comic situation of Rafi and Lisa’s couch sessions of mistaken identity, but rather in the depiction of the relationship between Rafi and David. Younger, making his first feature since 2000’s Boiler Room, shows a nice touch and an innate understanding of the ups and downs of modern romance. David provides excitement and a feeling of youth in Rafi’s life (not to mention great sex), which makes her feel giddy and alive. Yet, the very youthfulness and lack of concern that makes David so exciting is also part of the reason why he is frequently unemployed and still lives with his grandparents. When Rafi allows him to move in with her at one point, we see how romance and responsibility often make uncomfortably bedfellows.
In a sense, Prime is an uneven film, one that bounces from sitcom-ish humor to moments of bittersweet revelation that will ring true to anyone who has ever been in an “impossible” relationship. Younger makes his more serious intentions clear with a visual strategy that does not fall into the predictable patterns of the romantic comedy. He throws in a few jump cuts and employs odd framing and unexpected close-ups to give the film a more intimate, immediate feel, one that often belies the broad humor of some of his scenarios. Although it takes a while to get settled into it, Prime eventually achieves a rhythm all its own and will likely surprise you with its sweet, but realistic take on the limits of romance.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2005 Universal Pictures