Prime

on October 28, 2005 by Mark Keizer
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Ben Younger's cute, minor and badly-titled "Prime" begs easy comparison to the work of Woody Allen, with its neurotic characters living in a prettified New York. But Younger's tale, about a 23-year old Jew who falls for a 37-year old Gentile, is more like the Semitic spawn of "Moonstruck" and "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." The movie's downside is that Younger's script uses demanding issues to create an undemanding movie. Its upside is that he takes his characters seriously, has a light and loving feel for Jewish life, and gets some sizable laughs from stars Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep.

Beautiful 37-year-old Rafi (Thurman) has just extricated herself from a nine-year marriage and, when we meet her, she's explaining this to her therapist, Dr. Metzger (Streep). Soon after, Rafi meets Ben (Bryan Greenberg, from TV's "One Tree Hill", whatever that is), who is 14 years her junior. The two fall for each other, although Rafi is concerned that Ben is too young to give her what she needs, mainly security and a baby. But the bigger issue is that Ben's mother, unbeknownst to Rafi, is Dr. Metzger. For weeks, Dr. Metzger has no idea Ben's new girlfriend is Rafi, nor does Rafi know her therapist is Ben's mother. The comic possibilities are endless. But Younger shows restraint and maturity in some of his choices, especially the inevitable scene where the good doctor tells Rafi the unsettling, probably unethical, truth.

One aspect of the film that risks cliché but is well-handled is Ben's religion. Dr. Metzger is willing to overlook the age of Ben's new girlfriend, but not that she's Gentile. She stands firm on the issue, which isn't played for big laughs. Most refreshing is that Ben is not nebbishy in the Woody Allen mold, but a handsome, sincere young man thrust into his first adult relationship. Younger ("The Boiler Room"), working with production designer Mark Ricker, creates believable dwellings familiar to anyone with an East Coast Jewish family, from the slipcovers on the couches to the mezuzahs on the door frames.

Streep is a treasure and here she creates a believable Jewish mother who's always several steps removed from caricature. The therapy sessions where Dr. Metzger must silently endure Rafi's detailed descriptions of Ben's sexual prowess are clinics in comedic subtlety. Thurman also comes up big. She's vulnerable, yet sensible enough to know her new relationship is an uphill battle. She also shows nice comic chops: the way she collapses on the floor with laughter when learning that Ben lives with his grandparents is a great moment. The wildcard is Greenberg, who's being asked to hold his own against two powerhouse women. While a stronger actor would have ultimately been more satisfying, Greenberg should still be commended for not throwing this three-character affair hopelessly off-balance. The main supporting player is a severe misstep, with Jon Abrahams playing Ben's buddy who ends each relationship by throwing a pie in the woman's face.

What keeps "Prime" from really soaring is a tone that borders on featherweight, and some slack pacing that results whenever Streep is not in close proximity. Still, Younger is correct that considerations such as age, religion and circumstance can be enough to keep people from simply loving each other. And he's able to wring decent comedy from a sad reality. Starring Uma Thurman, Meryl Streep and Bryan Greenberg. Directed and written by Ben Younger. Produced by Jennifer Todd and Suzanne Todd. A Universal release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual content including dialogue, and for language. Running time: 100 min

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