on 9 March 2006
Meryl Streep, playing New York psychoanalyst Lisa Metzger in her latest movie, Prime, doesn't quite get what she wishes for, and she certainly doesn't practice what she preaches. During the course of the movie, she learns some hard lessons about life, mothering, and standards - and the fact that her patients' standards are remarkably different from the values she asks of David, her twenty-three-year-old son.
Prime is a well-acted, astutely observed, and intelligently directed romantic comedy that is all about what happens, when your therapist discovers that you've been having a wild affair with her son. It's an absolute delight from beginning to end, not just because of the terrific lead performances from Streep, Thurman, and Greenberg, but also because director, Ben Younger seems perfectly adept at showing the perils and giddiness of romance from three very different vantage points.
Rafi (Uma Thurman) is thirty-seven with an established career as a stylist and a luxurious Manhattan apartment. One night, at an Antonioni retrospective, she meets the hunky twenty-three year old David (Bryan Greenberg) after they are locked out of Blow Up. Rafi has just recently been divorced and has been having regular counseling sessions with Lisa (Streep). Rafi is only too happy to share as many cherished details as she can with Lisa, including graphic depictions of what the sex is like with the new young stud in her life.
It doesn't take long for Lisa to wise up to the fact that Rafi is sleeping with her young son. As Rafi shares every intimate episode of her new affair, Lisa struggles to block out mental pictures she doesn't want to see and secrets she doesn't want to know. For Rafi, however, it's a chance to get back into life and rediscover a side of herself that she lost somewhere along the line during a mostly joyless 9-year-long marriage.
For Dave, Rafi represents the older, more experienced woman and perhaps his first brush with serious love; and Lisa, forced to look on benignly, is miserably conflicted between seeing it as a breakthrough for her patient and a potentially devastating situation for Dave, whom Lisa doesn't believe is mature enough to handle the consequences. Lisa is torn between wanting to see her son happy, but also anxious for him to commit to a girl that shares his Jewish faith.
The story gets most of its comic mileage from Lisa's squeamishness at hearing the intimate details of her son's sex life, which Streep plays marvelously well. In fact, the best moments in the film are when Rafi, high on the thrills of rediscovering sex, hashes out her feelings in Lisa's cozy little office. Even though Lisa realizes the new beau is David, she decides to put her client first, encouraging Rafi to luxuriate in her new lover.
Streep is endearingly funny, uncomfortably shifting in her seat and tightening her stylish wrap around her, and profusely shaking with a glass of water in her hand, as Lisa is forced to listen to detailed descriptions of her son's private parts. But the actress also manages to show Lisa's vulnerability and a very real concern at seeing her precious son drifting away from her. She's an outsider, who becomes unwilling voyeur in this tempestuous affair between the younger man and the older woman.
Both Thurman and Greenberg are absolutely terrific as the star crossed lovers, able to show vulnerability and sensitive as well as a passionate hunger for each other. Thurman is completely convincing as the kind of mature woman who could conceivably command attention from a man Dave's age. Greenberg - who is stunning to look at - turns Dave into a funny, sensitive guy who badly wants to be a part of Rafi's more sophisticated world, but isn't quite willing to give up his Nintendo marathons or his habit of hanging out and going to parties with his best mate.
Although the plot becomes fairly formulaic, especially during the final third, the film raises some interesting issues about relationships and the kind of problems that couples realistically face in this type of situation. Much of the conflict between Rafi and Dave is caused by the fact that they just want different things out of life: Rafi, her biological clock ticking, is starting to think about motherhood, while Dave is far more concerned with surviving, finding a steady place to live, and pursuing his career as a painter.
Although Prime is basically a romantic comedy - it's well stocked with smart one-liners and sharp observations, it's also remarkably sophisticated. Credit must without doubt go to Younger, who certainly doesn't sidestep the bitter and oftentimes sad truth about the age gap between people like Rafi and Dave. Mike Leonard March 06