Ben Younger’s Prime, which I just caught up with this weekend, has been receiving middling reviews, yet one must ask why. Clever yet not self-consciously so, smart yet in a pragmatic rather than show-offy way, sophisticated yet in the actual sense of the word rather than due to characters clutching martini glasses, Prime is a robust little romantic comedy that never takes a single cheap shot in favor of laughs, letting its comedy emanate purely from its situations.
In a role that on paper would be supporting, relegated as it is to mostly reaction shots, Meryl Streep portrays a possible sterotype (controlling Jewish mother who is also, coincidentally, her son’s non-Jewish, much older girlfriend’s therapist) as a multi-dimensional, decent, searching human being. Every bit her match is Uma Thurman, who looks relieved and refreshed at not having to massacre 88 little Asian men with a Hanzo sword or rip out Daryl Hannah’s eyeball, whose role is bright, sharp, and open…which is the norm for this mostly unheralded actress. (Thurman usually dives so forthrightly into a role, that her enthusiasm is often alienating for viewers used to the posing diffidence of the Gwyneths of the world.) Actor-wise, Bryan Greenberg is the weak link, but as the film progresses, his lack of charisma, or at least his inability to parlay his middling charms into something more emotionally nourishing, becomes the point.
Prime, a very Jewish, very practical, evocatively New York story of a love affair, doesn’t traffic in lies—odd for a studio romantic comedy. No one farts at an inopportune moment, overflows a toilet, flings a booger into a soda, or jizzes all over someone’s wedding cake—yet the laughs are there. There could be hope here, yet seeing as the film is from a remarkably female point of view (the handsome Greenberg is even more sexually fetishized than Uma; the main conflict is moved from the romantic travails of the couple to the emotional awakenings of the two older women) most critics, seem to have missed the boat. Ask yourselves why it is that when a male-oriented, hangdog list-making extravaganza like High Fidelity is released, critics (mostly male, mostly dorks) fall all over themselves trying to find the right praise, yet Prime is received with a polite nod at best? In Her Shoes prevailed with critics because it had the Curtis Hanson brand name behind it. He wasn’t just telling a women’s story, he was “stretching.” Ben Younger seems to be the real deal.