Monday 21 October 2013

Movie Review: Prime (2005)

A romantic comedy with a psychology twist, Prime benefits from an unconventional complication and strong performances by Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman.

In New York, 37 year old Rafaella "Rafi" Gardet (Thurman) has just finalized her divorce, and turns to her therapist Lisa (Streep) to get back on her feet. Lisa's son David (Bryan Greenberg), a 23 year old struggling artist, meets Rafi through mutual friends and soon they are in a serious relationship. The sex is great, but Rafi is fully aware that David is too young to start a family with her, which is what she now wants most in the prime of her life.

With Lisa professionally using her maiden name, Rafi has no idea that David is Lisa's daughter, and proceeds to reveal all the intimate details of the relationship during the therapy sessions. Lisa eventually realizes that her patient is dating her son, and has to decide whether she can continue seeing Rafi and what advice to give to David. Not only does Lisa believe that Rafi is too old for David, she also wants her son to marry a Jewish woman. Lisa has to find a way to reconcile the advice she gives to her patients with the realities of her personal expectations and biases, while David and Rafi begin to struggle with the emerging gaps between their maturity levels.

A romantic comedy that does not telegraph its ending, Prime creates an unusual triangle, affording Thurman and Streep the opportunity to work on the story's strongest bond. The romance between Rafi and David is interesting, but the most engaging relationship in the movie is that between Rafi and Lisa, initially patient and therapist, and then something a lot more complicated. The scenes between Thurman and Streep are delightful, two actresses in fine form feeding off each other.

As Rafi, Thurman is emerging from the wreckage of a divorce and looking to make up for lost time, and in David she finds a toy boy who may be more. She is naturally eager to share all the details of her emotional journey and physical needs during the therapy sessions. Once Lisa connects the dots and concludes that Rafi's lover is her son, Streep starts to shine, often hilariously capturing the nervous mannerisms of a woman trying to professionally hold it together while freaking out on the inside.

The premise allows director and screenwriter Ben Younger to introduce a level of depth rarely broached by the genre. Lisa suddenly has to confront a clash between her personal feelings and the advice she glibly delivers to strangers. Encouraging Rafi to have a fling with a younger man doesn't sound like such a good idea when the younger man is her own son. And Lisa has to re-examine her rigid ideas about religious compatibility when her son is dating a non-Jewish woman that she greatly admires. The dilemmas are of course dealt with lightly and with humour, and but are nevertheless welcome wrinkles in a genre that routinely thrives on either formula or the lowest common denominator.

Bryan Greenberg as David is pleasant enough but obviously trampled by the superior talent surrounding him. Rather than a full-fledged person, David remains just a notch or two above a plot device. The attempt to humanize him with superior art skills is handled superficially, while a pie-throwing sidekick is unfortunately juvenile.

But in Prime it doesn't matter much. What the guy lacks in spark and charisma, his mother more than makes up for.

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