March 12, 2006
Ben Younger’s feature film debut was the brash yet hopelessly derivative Boiler Room (2000) that featured a cast of up-and-comers (like Giovanni Ribisi and Vin Diesel). The film spent too much time quoting Wall Street (1987) and trying too hard to be a new Millennium version of Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). Fortunately, he decided to say something more personal with his next film, Prime (2005) that is also rooted more in realism as opposed to the movie quoting machine that was his first movie.
Rafi (Thurman) is a recently divorced woman in her late 30s. Her therapist (Streep) is helping her deal with the end of this nine year relationship. Rafi meets David (Greenberg), an aspiring painter in his early 20s, at a movie. He’s there with his girlfriend and Rafi’s with a gay friend (Orth) of hers. David and Rafi make eye contact a few times and there’s a hint of a spark. He calls her up and they agree to go out to dinner. They hit it off but once she finds out how young he is she finds it a little disconcerting, but things go smoothly otherwise.
David’s family is very Jewish with his mom laying on the guilt trip, wanting him to get involved with a girl of their religious persuasion. Rafi continues to see her therapist who (unbeknownst to all involved) also happens to be David’s mother. Pretty soon Mom figures it out and life begins to get complicated for all involved. The professional implications are mind-boggling and personally she’s a wreck because she knows that Rafi is not Jewish.
It’s nice to see Uma Thurman play someone her age and not some immature Barbie doll. She looks stunning as ever but in an approachable way, like her character in Beautiful Girls (1996). Rafi is a very grounded person and the dialogue between her and David is authentic. There is genuine chemistry between the two leads.
Writer/director Younger does a nice job developing their relationship naturally and gradually over time, showing how their mutual attraction deepens. Rafi is very attracted to David but the age issue continues to rear its ugly head. Should she commit fully, so soon after her divorce and with someone so young?
Meryl Streep shows a real capacity for comedy, like in the scene where Rafi, unbeknownst that her therapist knows about the relationship with David, enthusiastically describes, in graphic detail, having sex with him. The reactions Streep gives are priceless as she tries to mask her discomfort and horror at learning all of these personal details about her son. The veteran actress wisely doesn’t play it broad or too cartoonish, thankfully opting instead to reign in any impulses to go over-the-top.
Younger doesn’t overdue it with the kitschy, Gershwin by way of Woody Allen music. The Jewish stereotypes are there but implied and no one is overtly neurotic like in Allen’s movies. Younger assumes that we are familiar with this kind of romantic comedy and so he doesn’t feel the need to repeat what has already been done. He injects Prime with little moments of unpredictable comedy that aren’t too slapsticky but develop gradually. Younger also doesn’t go for the traditional straight man/funny sidekick stereotypical combo. There’s a little bit of both in all of the characters.
There are a few blemishes on this otherwise fine romantic comedy. David’s best friend (Abrahams) has an odd quirk. He seems unable (or unwilling) to go on a second date with a woman and ends things by throwing a pie in her face. The first time this happens it is amusing and quirky but it is repeated again and again to disturbing effect to the point where his behaviour borders on seriously misogynistic. Younger never explains why he is like this beyond simple, infantile immaturity. Prime does a good job of being rooted in reality until the end when Rafi says something of an annoying, condescending nature that is out of character and takes us out of the movie for a few moments.
Prime deals with the baggage that comes with the age difference between a significantly younger man and an older woman and how, in the case of these two people, it is very difficult for them to make it work. They want different things – Rafi wants a child and stability while David has trouble holding down a job and isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life. Younger resists the urge to go for a pat, feelgood ending, instead maintaining the consistent, realistic tone that sets this film apart from most New York romantic comedies.
There are 11 deleted scenes that feature more footage with David and his best friend. Naturally, there is more footage with David and Rafi. These are bits and pieces that flesh out the relationships between some of the characters but one can see why they were cut.
Also included is an “Outtakes” reel with improvised bits and blown lines that are amusing.
“Prime-Time Players” is a making of featurette. Younger wanted to explore the concept of what love is and make a more personal movie. Both Streep and Greenberg also praise the reality of Younger’s screenplay. He felt that recent romantic comedies had gotten soft and wanted to get back to the realness of movies like Annie Hall (1977) and When Harry Met Sally (1989).
There is an audio commentary by writer/director Ben Younger and producer Jennifer Todd. They proudly state that the entire film was shot in New York City and point out various locations that were used. They talk briefly about how important it was to make this film there. However, they tend to spend too much time pointing out various locations – so much so that it feels like some kind of informal tour of the city. This is a loose, informal track as the two crack jokes and provide a smattering of comments in this mixed bag affair.