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Prime (2005)

July 28th, 2006 · 2 Comments

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Recently divorced fashion shoot manager Rafi (Uma Thurman, filling in for Sandra Bullock, who dropped out of two weeks before filming) is consulting sensitive, liberal minded therapist Lisa Metzger (Meryl Streep). The shrink encourages Rafi to put her bad marriage behind her and find someone who will appreciate her.

After a meet-cute in line for an Antonioni double feature, Rafi is locked out of the theater and makes small talk with the distracted, good looking, sort-of painter named David, played by Bryan Greenberg from the WB’s One Tree Hill. David later gives Rafi a call, hangs up, and eventually gets around to asking her out.

Despite the sexual chemistry promised by the film’s title, there’s trouble in paradise. David is a 23-year-old (she cards him) unemployed Jewish kid. Rafi is a 37-year-old successful WASP divorcee. If that wasn’t enough, Uma Thurman’s character is the last in the theater to realize that her boy toy is also the son of her shrink. Dr. Metzger finds her role as a therapist and a mother in conflict and as they say, complications ensue.

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Prime was written and directed by Ben Younger, who made a strong debut in 2000 with the sharp, highly entertaining stockbroker drama Boiler Room. Now attempting to write a May-December romantic comedy, he pretty much flatlines, delivering a clinic on what constitutes a sophomore slump.

Younger commits numerous sins in his foray into Woody Allen territory, the chief boner being that his script is simply not believable. Even if you buy that in Manhattan, everyone is in everyone else’s business and you’re one degree of Kevin Bacon away from sleeping with your therapist’s son, Younger’s comedic sensibility is way too phony.

There’s not a natural, unforced moment in the movie. If you were dating Uma Thurman, who lived on the Upper West Side, and you were living with your grandparents on the Lower East Side, would you take her back to their place? In order to get what he thought would be a laugh, Younger has his characters do just that, acting like nothing that resembles a real couple.

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The secondary characters are even more cliched, with Rafi’s friends in the Hamptons strictly one-note, gay caricatures, while David’s best friend (Jon Abrahams) is a cad who handles rejection by ordering custard pies from Magnolia Bakery and smacking his dates in the face with them. I’m not sure if the pie-in-the-face gag stopped being funny with Mel Brooks, or whether the Three Stooges killed it, but why Younger thought this would be funny, I have no clue.

The film’s phoniness extends to its rating. The producers petitioned the MPAA to get it knocked down to a PG-13, which says a lot about the nature of movies today. Almost everything has to be rated PG-13. I can’t imagine anyone in their mid-teens wanting to see a movie about a 37-year-old woman who hears nature’s call and beds a younger man, but here it is, completely missing almost all of the passion soaked bedroom scenes that should be a necessity for this type of movie.

The clincher is when Rafi ignores the advice of her sage friend (a woefully underused Annie Parisse) and actually buys David a Nintendo, after which, he can’t be bothered to have sex with her. Say what? Introduce me to one 23-year-old in the western hemisphere who would rather play Ridge Racer 64 than make love to Uma Thurman, and I’ll retract my review.

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If the script dealt with the irony that women and men hit their sexual peaks at different points in their lives and stayed on that topic, it might have worked. But the insertion of Meryl Streep’s character – who hits every stereotype of a meddling Jewish mother whose only dream is for her son to marry a nice Jewish girl – is so over the top and just kills the movie.

The script just wasn’t thought out very well. I found new respect for the star of Miss Congeniality 2 and The Lake House for dropping out when Younger refused to rewrite his script.

The highlights of the film are the great New York locations. In addition to the Cinema Village and Magnolia Bakery, Younger follows the trail left by Cameron Crowe in Almost Famous and visits Tompkins Square Park, which I could see in every movie set in Manhattan. Younger knows his locations in a way he never bothers to get to know his characters.

Tags: Museums and galleries

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lori // Jul 30, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    I just rented this a little over a month ago (for lack of better options at Blockbuster). It was so disappointing. You just knew from the first pie scene that this wasn’t realiztic, and while I don’t expect all movies to be realistic, I do expect to be rewarded for my patience. The end – flat, blah. Actually made me mad I wasted two hours watching it.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Jul 30, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    The ending didn’t bother me; I got what Younger wanted to say and could at least respect that he didn’t go the Walt Disney/Pretty Woman route. I agree with you though, Lori, this one departed reality as we know it.

    Younger’s producers – Suzanne and Jennifer Todd – have done great work in the past but really were asleep at the wheel here. Younger isn’t Stanley Kubrick yet; he sorely needed someone to step up, do a Nina Jacobson on him and tell him this script sucked.

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