Prime (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Consider a movie that takes place in the Big Apple and features a heterosexual romance with an age gap, a dose of "Jewishness," a psychoanalyst, and an ending that doesn't pander to all the usual clichés. This may sound like Woody Allen - in fact, it often feels like Woody Allen (minus the expected helpings of angst) - but it's not. Prime is from writer/director Ben Younger and, while it's not up to the level of Allen's great romantic comedies (Annie Hall, Manhattan), it's better than anything the acclaimed New York auteur has brought to the screen in recent years.

Prime accedes to a number of the romantic comedy formulas to keep aficionados of the genre happy, while at the same time flouting enough of them to remain fresh and engaging. It also manages the difficult task of making the material funny without turning in into a sit-com. (Although there are a few times when it threatens to cross the line - consider the grandmother with the frying pan.) Prime is amusing and romantic, and offers a few intelligent opinions about the difficulties of bridging cultural and generational gaps in dating. Movies often treat these issues as either inconsequential or insurmountable. Prime falls more realistically in the middle ground; the keys to success are not love and passion, but commitment and maturity.

Rafi Gardet (Uma Thurman) is a 37-year old woman who, on the rebound from a messy divorce, finds herself head-over-heels in love with Dave Bloomberg (Bryan Greenberg), a man 14 years her junior. And, as if the age gap is not enough, Dave is Jewish while Rafi is not. This doesn't mean much to Dave, but it's an issue for his mother, Lisa (Meryl Streep), who can't bear to think about her son in love with someone who isn't Jewish. Rafi confides all the intimate details of her new love affair with her therapist - the same Lisa Metzger who is Dave's mother. Both women are unaware of their non-professional connection until Lisa figures it out. At that point, she has a dilemma: terminate her sessions with Rafi or do her best to keep her composure and continue the therapy. While she is wrestling with this decision, Rafi and Dave encounter the first rough patches of their new relationship.

Prime treads carefully around the issue of ethics. For us to accept Lisa as more than an interfering mother, we have to believe she has Rafi's best interests at heart, and we do. Although Lisa's sessions with Rafi are laced with comedic moments (such as one in which Rafi confesses, "[Dave's] penis is so beautiful I just want to knit it a hat" - something I'm sure no mother wants to hear about her son, no matter how flattering the revelation may be), there's an undercurrent of seriousness. Give at least partial credit to Meryl Streep, who refuses to allow Lisa to sink to the level of a caricature. By keeping her real, the film avoids a significant misstep.

Having finished attempting to kill Bill, Uma Thurman gets a chance to relax in a less physical role. She outshines her younger and less experienced co-star, Bryan Greenberg, but the two display enough chemistry to keep the film from stalling. It's easier to see what Dave sees in Rafi than the other way around. I suppose the allure of youth, physical attractiveness, and innocence is enough to blind Rafi to her lover's shortcomings - including a preference for playing video games over frolicking in the bedroom.

Although Rafi and Dave's relationship faces hurdles, the film does not throw the obligatory "romantic complications" subplot at us - at least not in the expected fashion. Prime is smarter and more sophisticated than that. And the resolution takes viewers in a different direction than that of most romantic comedies. We get to see what happens after the main story is over. Is the epilogue necessary? Probably not, but it adds another dimension to the movie, and makes me wish more romantic comedies would go this route.

The writer/director is Ben Younger, who is making his first feature since 2000's The Boiler Room. Prime is a different kind of project, but the screenplay shows evidence that Younger is a keen observer of human interaction, and there are enough small touches to indicate that he understands a little about the difficulties inherent in a coupling where one participant is significantly older than the other. Unlike many movies reaching theaters at this time of the year, Prime is not an Oscar contender, but it's a satisfying romantic comedy and a worthwhile diversion.

Prime (United States, 2005)

Director: Ben Younger
Cast: Uma Thurman, Meryl Streep, Bryan Greenberg, Jon Abrams
Screenplay: Ben Younger
Cinematography: William Rexer
Music: Ryan Shore
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2005-10-28
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1