(Ben Younger, USA, 2005)


This film has a wonderful central premise. Lisa (Meryl Streep) is a psychotherapist who oozes compassion and open-mindedness. In her family life, however, she is a controlling Jewish mother, forever trying to manage the personal life of her son, David (Bryan Greenberg).

Little does Lisa realise that when her patient Rafi (Uma Thurman) begins speaking candidly of her relationship with a younger man, it is David she is describing. And once Lisa does discover the truth, her personal and professional selves come into stark conflict. Should she continue the therapy without letting on to Rafi that she knows?

As written and directed by Ben Younger (Boiler Room, 2000), this is not a terribly sophisticated or artful film. The plot clunks along, and the camera does not always seem to be in the best spot to catch the action. It is more like a television sitcom than a motion picture. But the material belongs to the actors, who make it their own.

Streep is overrated as a dramatic performer, but underrated as a comedian. In the scenes where she is able to exploit the irony of the situation and "play to the camera" – engaging in asides and double-takes that make sense to us rather than Rafi – she is delightful.

Thurman and Greenberg have less to work with. It is strange to see Rafi, as a thirty-seven year-old, portrayed as someone almost over the hill, a slave to her biological clock. And David, although he is the sensitive and soulful type, stands for the supposedly unformed twenty-three year-old who would rather party with his mates or play video games than pay attention to the heavenly Rafi. Given the evident chemistry between the two actors, this fistful of Venus-and-Mars clichés is hard to take.

Like many romantic comedies, Prime has big problems extending the complications of its premise to a feature-length narrative. When the characters get beyond their tangle of lies and misunderstandings, the laughs start to die. The more that Younger tries to direct proceedings toward reassuring messages about family life and emotional maturity, the less sparkling the situations and performances.

However, while it is still in full, comedic flight, Prime is an enjoyable look at contemporary manners.

© Adrian Martin November 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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