Hippo Manchester
November 3, 2005

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Film: Prime (PG-13)
by Amy Diaz

Uma Thurman plays a woman robbing the cradle, with Meryl Streep being that particular cradle’s rocker, in the completely sparkless Prime.

Uma Thurman is an actress who has seldom been allowed to break out of her own cocoon of specialness. “Golly,” every movie seems to say with loving close-ups and lingering long shots, “a girl this pretty is fascinating just because she exists. Why ruin a perfectly good adoring gaze with instruction that she act?”

Meryl Streep knows a little something about this. Her cocoon of specialness has been constructed not so much because of appearance but because of a series of tics that are frequently mistaken for acting. Why make her convey character-appropriate emotions and mannerisms, directors seem to say, when she is so good at fidgeting her way to a personality?

These two planets (each with their own gravitational pull of approximated talent) orbit around Prime’s concept (a woman dates her therapist’s son) without interacting much (with each other, with other characters, with the story). It is as though two talented football players had been put on a field and expected to win a game without discussing strategy, the abilities of the other players or even their own strengths and weaknesses.

It is, in short, a collaboration of supposed talents to create a big mess.

Rafi (Thurman) is 37, newly divorced and ready to feel girlie again. Lisa Metz-ger (Streep) is a patient and kind therapist who convinces Rafi to focus on the now. Rafi focuses hard enough that she is able to enter in to a very tentative relationship with David (Bryan Greenberg), a sweet 23-year-old puppy of a wannabe artist. Rafi might be uneasy about their age difference but Lisa is completely supportive — until, of course, she finds out that Rafi’s David is also her David, the son she wants to have a real career and marry a nice Jewish girl. Horrified by the seamy details of Rafi’s and David’s romance that she’s now forced to hear, Lisa is reluctant to give up Rafi as a patient because she thinks (hopes) that the affair will be a brief fling and that Rafi will need her afterward.

Playing a Jewish mother with the subtlety of Mike Meyers’ Linda Richman character, Streep kvetches while Thurman flutters and eventually all secrets are revealed, necessitating a series of therapeutic discussions of the nature of love and family and the needs of a 37-year-old woman. Blech, is the only appropriate response to such politely silly mushy mishagas. It is as though the characters talk in greeting cards, mixing gentle humor with cheery “get well soon”-type aphorisms. The characters no more sound like they believe the dialogue than we believe Thurman finding anything more than sexual gratification with a character as pale and flavorless as David.

Devoid of the romantic heat that would make a May-December (and, damn, if 37 is December…) such an achingly passionate affair and lacking in the humor that would make us care about the therapist-patient relationship (jokes in this movie uselessly flap about and then plummet, like doves with lead bricks strapped to their feet), Prime doesn’t show anybody at his best.