Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Conflicts In Age Differences And Jewish Mothers/Therapists: Prime

The Good: Decent acting, Interesting characters, Some interesting ideas
The Bad: Failure of characters to advance meaningfully, Tone/emotional resolution
The Basics: In a razor decision, the similarity in emotional resonance to previous movies makes it difficult to recommend the generally entertaining Prime.

When I finished watching the movie Prime - and I understand that's an awkward place for the review to begin - I found myself in something of an odd position. The feelings I felt at the resolution to Prime were identical to how I felt at the end of As Good As It Gets (reviewed here!). So, I sat contemplating this. Was this a good thing or a bad thing? My final decision was that this was unsatisfying; I wanted something new and different. I did not want something that put me into the identical emotional place I had once been. Been there, done that. If you want a kind of "aw, well . . ." ending, there's that movie and, unfortunately for writer-direction Ben Younger, As Good As It Gets was years ahead, so it is this work that suffers as derivative.

David is a twenty-three year old artist living in Manhattan with his grandparents while he pursues his love of creating art. He's a talented painter, though every major influence in his life has told him it's not a practical way to support himself, so he has remained introverted and unsuccessful. He meets Rafi, who is branching out after a particularly difficult divorce. Rafi and David begin a relationship, though neither knows that David's mother is Rafi's therapist, though Lisa (David's mother) soon suspects this is the case. As Lisa does her best to both maintain her professionalism and not influence the relationship, David and Rafi grow to love one another and experience complications based on their age difference, their religions and Lisa's place in their lives.

Because I'm feeling negative about this movie right now, let's get the beefs out first. Prime has an essentially good idea, save that none of the characters learn anything. Rafi is incredibly insecure about dating a younger man. Despite her experiences with him, she never gets over this. Thus, the movie is tainted because Rafi goes in with a prejudice and simply lives the relationship a slave the that prejudice, never successfully defying it. Similarly, Lisa's annoying insistence that David not even date a non-Jewish woman is prejudiced start to finish. I recognize that there is a significant sect of Jewish culture (beyond the simple stereotypical Jewish mother) for whom cultural purity in the form of maintaining the tradition of children marrying within the religion is important to this day. In Prime it comes across, not as spiteful but, as limited. It does not fit much of the rest of Lisa's character. That she never grows beyond it, never even lets a chink show in her emotional armor on this issue is infuriating.

In fact, it is ironic that out of the adults in the movie (Lisa is in her fifties, Rafi in her early thirties), it is David who is easily the most open minded. David accepts and opens completely to loving Rafi, despite his initial fears that his mother will not accept her. He accepts Rafi's gay friends, he and his friends hang out in a rather multicultural setting and he just seems the most open to actual living and the only one who offers the viewer any real hope.

The film keeps raising the same conflicts over and over again; age difference, religious difference (which seems from the beginning far more important to Lisa than David) and lack of steady employment. This is a very practical, unromantic movie and it has an emotional drag to it as a result. For someone in therapy, Rafi never seems to get anywhere better emotionally and that's troubling.

What does work is the acting. The primaries in this film are Meryl Streep (Lisa), Uma Thurman (Rafi) and Bryan Greenberg (David). Greenberg slouches his way through the movie in a parody of the browbeaten young Jewish man who has lived under his mother's influence too long. He mumbles, effectively creating a character who is instantly recognizable. A problem arises, however, in the middle of the film stemmed more from the character as written than Greenberg's portrayal. When David and Rafi start their relationship, Greenberg's whole body language changes; he's a man in love. It seems, therefore, silly and canned when Rafi buys him a Nintendo and he neglects their lovemaking for it. Greenberg sold us on a transformation that seemed too easily undone.

Uma Thurman is decent as Rafi. She makes good use of her expressive face and eyes and some of the scenes - especially early in the movie - of Rafi in therapy are made convincing by Thurman's ability to dramatically emote. She convinces the viewer of an extensive backstory that we are not privy to and her performance through most of the movie requires the greatest range of any of the actors and she rises to the occasion.

Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep here. By that, I mean that she is acting with professionalism and class. It's difficult to evaluate her acting because her character is so static. Streep's Lisa has little emotional resonance, not so much because of Streep's performance, but rather because of how the character is written. Streep is convincing as a somewhat controlling, traditional Jewish mother.

But overall, the movie falls just flat enough not to recommend. It's an emotional downer because the characters are stagnant and while it may be human, it's not entertaining. And for a film that starts so well, we deserve some happiness. So do your characters, Mr. Younger!

For other works with Bryan Greenberg, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Friends With Benefits
Bride Wars
The Perfect Score


For other movie reviews, be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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