Film

Prime (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

Wise and soothing, Lisa occasionally sounds more like a girlfriend than the usual movie shrink, and this is, you think, a good thing.


Prime

Director: Ben Younger
Cast: Uma Thurman, Meryl Streep, Bryan Greenberg, Jon Abrahams
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Universal
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-10-28

Here's a story of opposites attracting. Rafi (Uma Thurman) is a beautiful, professional photographer. Not a model, mind you, though she's surrounded by them and so observes their vapidity, but an artist, single, self-aware, tasteful, and charming. Lisa (Meryl Streep) is married. She's also fussy and judgmental, though not in her work as a therapist. She treats her clients with respect, sees a therapist herself when the need arises, and looks after her husband and children efficiently, if sometimes overbearingly.

Lisa is Rafi's therapist. As Prime opens, Rafi is going through a rough patch, as she's just "signed the papers" for her divorce after nine years of wondering why she was married. She worries that she feels "terrible" rather than relieved, but Lisa assures her that this is fine, healthy, and common, and adds that her ex's bad behavior in the lawyers' offices suggests he "sounds terrified." Wise and soothing, Lisa occasionally sounds more like a girlfriend than the usual movie shrink, and this is, you think, a good thing, because Thurman and Streep will make for a terrific couple, however they work out their differences in perspective and need. Their work together -- in Lisa's cozy, home-based office and on screen -- is initially nuanced and amusing.

Then comes the problem: Rafi meets a young man, David (Bryan Greenberg), aspiring artist and restless boychik, quietly resenting his mom's interference and traipsing along after his best friend Morris (Jon Abrahams), who regularly "gets back" at girls who dump him (most often after the first date) by delivering cream pies -- to their faces. David knows this is silly and mean, but he goes along because, well, because the movie needs a way to show that David is relatively more "mature" than his emotionally inept, goofily miserable buddy. "It makes me an accessory," whines David. "It's not funny." He's right.

Though Rafi is understandably moved by his cuteness (this after she laments, "There are officially no cute boys left"), she also intuits that something's off, namely, his age. She's 37, he's 23, a difference that, in writer/director Ben Younger's film, becomes monumental. At first, their dissimilarities seem mutually beneficial, as they educate, or at least entertain, one another: she likes jazz, he likes hip-hop (and he makes appropriate fun of her condescending first suggestion that he listen to Coltrane); she introduces him to quail egg sushi and the location of the clitoris, he shares with her his love of Rothko, and she appreciates his own art, recommending him to a gallery owner friend of hers.

Though they develop a social imbalance early on, whereby Rafi is instructing David and he's adjusting to please her, their sexual relationship seems ideal. As her therapist reminds her, their both at their "sexual peaks," at their ages, the match is potentially ideal. Rafi gushes that they do it often, in diverse positions and places -- all over her apartment, since he's still living with his grandparents (Naomi Aborn and John Rothman) in Brooklyn, and initially embarrassed to bring her home. (The weirdest running gag is the image accompanying his description of his Bubbie's responses to his artistic inclinations or a black girlfriend: she whomps herself on the head with a frying pan.) Aside from the sex, which Rafi describes in some detail (as Lisa encourages her, noting that both are in their sexual "prime"), the relationship appears in charming bits of scenes, showcasing David's disarming sense of humor and Rafi's luminous energy.

As they begin to realize a gap between them, the film suggests that it's only partly about age (and the dim Morris voices this concern, urging David to drop her because "she's old, bro, she's a time fighter" -- that he calls his best friend "bro" is a whole other problem). Their hurdles take typical forms: he's into video games, doesn't have a job; she prefers to keep her cds and clothing in order, and eventually tires of paying his way, especially when he moves in and starts leaving the apartment in disarray. They're also divided by cultural backgrounds (Jewish and Upper East Side nonbeliever), her wealthy friends out at the beach (especially the gay boys) think he's adorable, but David feels uncomfortable and starts acting out. Rafi's not crazy about Morris, either, which means their relationship remains insular, a little oasis amid their other lives.

Though overshadowed by the trite romance, the relationship between Lisa and Rafi remains the film's more intriguing bond, even when it is disturbed by the very foreseeable (and almost immediately revealed) "twist" that David is Lisa's son. When Lisa figures it out, she's in the especially odd position of knowing that Rafi is discussing her son. At this point, the movie lurches into broad and much less interesting comedy. As Lisa strains to maintain her professional relationship with Rafi (whom she apparently genuinely likes), hoping against hope that the romance will be brief, she spends their sessions trying not to look appalled at Rafi's elaborate descriptions of David's penis. It's so beautiful, she enthuses, "I want to knit it a hat."

Lisa and Rafi's different expectations, desires, and imaginations constitute a tension that is both familiar and remarkable, based in generational and cultural shifts and good-faith efforts to understand them. That the film has to build up the romance in order to complicate the women's relationship is to its detriment (Streep's mugging for the camera while listening to sex stories becomes increasingly unfunny). The limits of this joke don't deter Prime from dogging it. The therapy sessions are increasingly spastic, and a near run-in at a Crate & Barrel has Lisa diving behind a bed with her perplexed and patient husband (John Rothman) as Rafi and David walk by blissfully arm-in-arm. When the predictable confrontations finally come around, the film has long since run out of energy. Pretending that David's maturation has been its focus all along, Prime awkwardly loses sight of its more substantive relationship.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image