By Amy Lamare, October 28, 2005
If you thought that the premise of this Romantic Comedy from writer/director Ben Younger is too contrived, you’d be right – and yet oh so wrong. Uma Thurman (UTHUR) stars as Rafi (short for Rafielle), a 37-year-old woman who has recently ended a loveless marriage. She is now struggling with self-esteem issues, aided by her therapist, Lisa Metzger, played with panache by Meryl Streep (MSTRE).
It surprises no one that Streep nails her role, she always does. She has her Jewish-NY-matronly-therapist schtick down to a science. She is subtle, yet at the same time, strains of the old SNL skit “Coffee Talk” can be heard in her accent and seen in her movements. And Thurman’s performance as the fragile and luminous Rafi may be even better than Streep’s.
It is clear from the interactions between Rafi and Lisa, that there is genuine affection there. Lisa encourages Rafi to let her life get a little messy-then she’ll know she’s truly living. Rafi’s life is populated with rich gay men and artists and that elite, cultured New York scene so typically identified with the fashion scene and WASPS. One night she and some friends are out at an Antonioni film festival and she meets David Bloomberg, the young man her gay pal is infatuated with. David is Jewish, not gay and on a date.
David goes home to the pad he shares with his grandparents and looks Rafi up in the phone book. In a scene filled with the very realistic nerves you feel in a situation such as this, David asks Rafi out for dinner the next night and she accepts. It is at this dinner that their relationship first blooms, even though he is 23 and she is 37. As she remarks in the film “I have t-shirts older than you.”
Her utter happiness shows in every pore of her body. She glows. She grins. At her next therapy session, she can’t wait to tell Lisa what happened. “I kissed a boy!” she says. She then enters into the lament about his age and wonders how it can work. As therapy sessions progress, Lisa figures out that the young man Rafi is dating is her son. At this point we see the theory of her practice go out the window, and the sheer Jewish maternal horror of her young son dating a shiksa, a 37-year-old shiksa at that, takes over.
Streep’s performance is a delight to watch as she tries to resolve these internal warring factions. She wants to do the right thing by her client, but her horror at hearing Rafi describe her son’s penis is sheer comedic brilliance.
Filmmaker Ben Younger infuses this Universal (UNIVX) production with a Woody Allen-eque, indie feel. Moments in the story feel like they must have been autobiographical to Younger’s own life. Did he have a “Bubbie” that was bigoted, and whose memory drove him to both rebel and ultimately do the right thing? Did he fall in love with a much older woman? If not, kudos to him for infusing such realism into this film. Heck, even if so, kudos to him. The dialogue is spot on and the performances are nuanced.
If Prime (PRIM) has a flaw, it is in the secondary characters. They are as underdeveloped as the main characters are rich. We have a misogynistic, cynical, immature, pie-throwing friend, for example. (His gag is funny the first time, after that it wears thin). We have Rafi’s pretentious rich gay friends. Only David’s typically New York Jewish family comes off well, and they work best when at least three of them are assembled.
Younger reveals the relationship in little moments – the moments that real people remember and cling to when reminiscing. And so the audience feels the development of their affection for each other, the audience is the third party in their relationship. The differences between Rafi’s cultured 30-something and David’s immature 20-something are clear, and we understand the couple’s frustration. The difference in their ages is bigger than their religious differences and will determine their fate. And yet, you don’t really wonder for a moment why it is Rafi is drawn to David, or vice versa. She remembers her youthful side and he brings it out. He is just trying on the role of adult for the first time, and she guides him there. And well, there’s also the sex…
Now I must warn you of a spoiler in the next paragraph. If you truly have no idea how this film ends, or have no inclination to find out before you see it, do not read the following.
In the final scene of the movie, the filmmaker hits us over the head with the dichotomy between the phases of life of our two main players. David, walking down the street with his pie-throwing friend, talks about moving to Central America for a bit. This metaphor for “finding himself” is not lost on anyone. He discovers he left his hat in the restaurant and goes back for it. Rafi is there with friends, dining and drinking and looking luminous. She sees him standing outside the door and smiles at him. She is inside, surrounded by the love of her friends. David is outside in the cold.
And yet, you just know they made the right choices and that both of their lives are going to work out just fine. And that is an immensely gratifying feeling to walk away with: that out of romantic failure, happiness can be found.
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