Tuesday, May 09, 2006

PRIME - fairly funny but ultimately forgettable romantic-comedy-drama-whatever

This review is posted by guest reviewer, Katya, who can normally be found here:

In a nutshell: David is 23 and Jewish. Rafi is 37, and not. They meet, they like, they get jiggy. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to all, Rafi’s psychotherapist is none other than David’s mum. Prime lasts an hour and three quarters, and it has enough to keep you entertained for the duration. Uma Thurman and Bryan Greenberg are both perfectly competent in the rôles of their respective characters, and, as is to be expected, Meryl Streep excels. Dialogue makes up much of the film– and in most cases, the viewer finds themselves genuinely interested in how each conversation is going to turn out. There are also a fair few moments of real humour – albeit of the “smiling wryly” variety, rather than the “falling off your seat” variety.

But all in all, this film disappoints, and feels empty and ultimately unsatisfying. It’s like a bag of popcorn when you wanted a steak, or at the very least a cheeseburger. First of all, while the acting is all quite adequate, the two main protagonists seem frankly thin and two-dimensional – while we may watch their individual interactions with curiosity, we find that we do not, in the end, much empathize with them, or care what happens to their lives. While both profess love and passion, I found myself utterly unable to believe it – there was no sense of the reality of those feelings for me – and when things went predictably pear-shaped, I was unable to stir up anything bar equanimity, if not outright apathy.

Far more interesting are the emotional and ethical ambiguities of Meryl Streep’s character – the inconsistencies and the double-standards which, as the film progresses, she begins to confront at least partially. Which rôle is closest to reflecting her true human values – therapist or mother? When does “help” slide into manipulation? How much do labels matter? None of this gets resolved, of course, and the movie hardly qualifies as any sort of profound exploration of the issues – but at least here we have a character that seems more than paper-thin.

In summary, this film fails any way you cut it: as a comedy, a love story, a tragedy, or a treatise on the human condition. You won’t be gnawing your own arm off to stave off the boredom, but you may be left with a hollow feeling that later crystallizes into a wish you’d spent your money elsewhere.

And a few words from Bina007:
PRIME features Uma Thurman (most recently Ulla in the remake of The Producers) as Raffi – a thirty-seven year-old recent divorcee. Raffi has the kind of life we see depicted in a certain kind of Woody Allen movie, or perhaps an episode of Sex and the City. She lives in a Manhattan where everyone is beautiful, works in fashion or the arts and has a fantastic apartment decorated with Rothko prints. But, again with the Woody Allen, she has never been happy. Her Upper East-side shrink recommends that she throw herself into life, even if that means dating a hot 23-year old wannabe artist – a relationship that clearly cannot go anywhere. Of course, this being a movie, the endearingly sweet* 23-year old turns out to be the therapist’s son. Which of course would be fine if the shrink applied the same “embrace life” attitude to her own family. But instead, the Meryl Streep character is not only horrified that her son is dating a much-older woman, but also that he is dating a non-Jew. So, there’s the set-up and the movie unravels in a fairly predictable manner. People have witty conversations while walking through perfectly lit streets in the Village or have dinner over Allen-esque noisy Jewish dinner tables. In an act of homage, they even meet in queues outside old playhouses (NOT cineplexes) showing difficult post-war Italian movies. None of this is a critique, of course. You can commit worse cinematic crimes that simply re-interpreting cinematic greats, but by the time we ended with the Annie-Hall-style montage of “best of” moments from Raffi and Dave’s relationship I thought the writer/director was digging a comparative hole for himself. This is because while PRIME is a perfectly harmless, often very funny movie it is never completely engrossing. And it certainly is not a Great Film, whatever that may be. The friend I went to see it with said that it was a signal that the movie had failed that she wasn’t more moved by the ending. I think that sums up the movie for me. Go see PRIME for Meryl Streep hamming it up. Go see it for the best-friend of the “hero” throwing cream pies in the faces of girls who have dumped him. Go see it for the grandma bashing her head with a skillet. Just don’t expect to remember much about it the next day.

PRIME has been on release pretty much everywhere but finally hits the UK on Friday.*If you want to see how sweet slide your cursor over the picture to read a quotation from the movie.


  1. I thought this was really a lovely film. I don't understand why you would say that their relationship "clearly wasn't going anywhere". Why was that so clear? In fact, the fault of the movie was sharing that very assumption with you. Somehow the relationship 'had' to break down, because it was 'doomed' by the age difference - even though there was no reason given how this actually impaired things. Raffi and her young beau had great chemistry and seemed perfect for each other. The break-up seems just some sort of internalization of irrational societal disapproval.

  2. I think it was not going anywhere because it takes two to tango. While David is up for trying, Raffi is consistently holding back from start to finish. She talks about this in therapy and with him. It was not a judgement about inter-age relationships but a distillation of her position. I am pleased you enjoyed the film, though. Different strokes.

  3. That's a good reply, thanks. I'll have to think about that.