It is a testament to Meryl Streep’s stellar acting skills that she had kept her role in PRIME from devolving into a shrill caricature of a Jewish mother. And this is especially important given that hers is the only fully realized character to be found in this otherwise dreary excuse for a romantic comedy.
The romantic duo are Rafi (Uma Thurman) and David (Bryan Greenberg), not exactly a May-December romance, more a May-mid October one. She’s Rafi, rich with an oddly undefined glamorous job and a chi-chi-catalogue perfect Greenwich Village apartment. He’s David, a struggling artist living with his grandparents in a less glamorous address. And the point of the film seems to be saying, for all the sturm und drang about age differences (14 years) and religious differences (he’s Jewish, she’s not), that if only they had economic parity, it wouldn’t matter. Then again, maybe not. For all the chatter, it never quite gets to the point, if there is one. And there is a great deal of chatter. The twist, such as it is, comes from the fact that Lisa (Streep), Rafi’s longtime therapist is, unbeknownst to anyone but said therapist, also David’s mother. Hence the potential hilarity of Rafi describing David’s penis to Lisa, who has decided to not say anything about this in case it’s just a quick fling. In truth, the best moments of the film come not during Rafi’s sessions with Lisa mugging her way through too much information about her son, but with Lisa’s sessions with her therapist struggling with what the right thing to do about it all is.
The story itself plods along in anything but a character-driven fashion. Trust issues, Nintendo addiction, and a best pal who finds solace in never getting a second date by tossing cream pies at the women who reject him are thrown in to kill time until Rafi and David, deliriously happy and magically in love suddenly aren’t because screenwriting 101 dictates that they not be in love anymore. The film as a whole, thereby, comes across as a disjointed amalgamation in search of cohesion. Worse, because Young doesn’t sustain the premise’s momentum, it quickly becomes a one-note joke with exactly the same punch line every five or ten minutes. She loves him, but thinks it will end badly. He loves her, and is optimistic, living in the now. Along the way, they both learn just heaps about love and romance and life and the universe and everything.
Thurman and Greenberg are both earnest, appealing, and displayed to attractive advantage as they go through the paces of a romance for which they each have different expectations. It’s Streep who saves what little of the day is salvageable. A pro who, apparently, can mine dreck and find something worthwhile in it, she gives complexity to a character who is suddenly faced with having the advice she hands her patients applied to her someone in her own family. Even the problematical attitude about marrying outside the Jewish faith comes across not as stiff-necked or narrow-minded or any other body-constricting metaphor, but as coming from a lifetime of experience and fierce determination to spare the child she loves from pain. Not even she, though, can elevate the eating of that most quintessential of Jewish deli delights, the corned-beef-on-rye sandwich, during one of these revelatory moments to something beyond the hackneyed.
The characters in PRIME, as I’ve mentioned, learn much. The audience does, too, but only that Meryl Streep is a goddess, which isn’t a surprise, and that the leap from a good idea for a film and a good film is more difficult than it seems.