November, 2005, Comedy

Directed by:Ben Younger

Starring:Uma Thurman, Meryl Streep, and Bryan Greenberg

Five years ago, writer/director Ben Younger arrived on the scene with Boiler Room, his debut film about the brash young denizens of a penny-stock brokerage firm preying on unsophisticated, malleable investors. (That movie, an updated re-working of David Mamet's classic Glengarry Glenn Ross featured perhaps the only solid performance ever given by Ben Affleck and even managed to make Vin Diesel look plausible.) If Younger's second outing doesn't have dramatic snap, crackle and pop of his first, it does contain a half dozen credible wisecracks, a luminous performance from Uma Thurman and two remarkably un-Hollywood-ish points of view. Not clever enough to be labeled a romantic comedy nor serious enough to be legitimately described as a drama, Prime meanders through its premise with all the awkwardness of its protagonist, a 23 year-old wanna-be painter named David Bloomberg.

Through a mutual friend, David meets Rafi Gardet, (Thurman) career woman and newly minted divorcee of 37 whose therapist, Lisa Metzger, (Meryl Streep) urges Rafi to explore her attraction to the much younger David as a means of getting back into circulation. Because Lisa doesn't know David's name however, she's unaware that she's also connected to him under circumstances that require about half of the movie's 105 minute running time to fully disclose. During this interim, Rafi's appetite for David goes from carnal to maternal to confused as she struggles to understand the nature of David's appeal to her and the proper response to it. He, in turn, is totally smitten and prepared to simply live day-by-day, basking in the sunshine of Rafi's attention. When his mother learns he's fallen for a shiksa, she's alarmed about his attraction to someone who doesn't share his religious/ethnic background. What's a fellow to do? His lover demands more maturity, his mother a traditional spouse and he can't even hold a full time job…

Give Younger credit for tackling two subjects (December/May romances and the importance of marriage within one's religious tradition) that aren't usually approached with the kind of candor the director brings to them here. Both sides of each subject are examined with equal seriousness and levity and if the implausibility of the storyline comports with the standard Hollywood treatment of love, sex and commitment, Prime manages a poignant resolution which provides a much more plausible ending than is usually found in this kind of cinematic froth. 

As David, Bryan Greenberg, (known mostly for television work) conveys just the right amount of knowing clueless-ness to his role as a nice Jewish boy as confused by his attraction to Rafi as she is by her affection for him. Streep's Lisa doesn't fare nearly as well however; it's an over-mannered performance that ties to find humor in scenes that require a subtly the actress just can't muster. Sporting a deliberately dowdy wardrobe and a husband she seems to have eviscerated with her domineering personality, Streep leeches all the sympathy out of her character and the script doesn't provide her a final opportunity to recover from the often-conflicting advice she gives the star-crossed lovers.               


But Thurman gives the audience a radiant Rafi, un-self-consciously reveling in her carnality and eager to examine its consequences with her therapist/confidant. Thurman's blend of vulnerability and sensuality provide the best reason to see Prime; after her super-macho persona in the Kill Bill double-bill, Rafi's appealingly conflicted sincerity gives Thurman perhaps the most attractive role of her career, wonderfully compelling for men and women alike, (although for decidedly different reasons.)

The verdict? Way below "must see" but certainly above "avoid at all costs".   



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