Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2005 7:32 pm 
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Retro comedy with silk-smooth writing and charming performances

In 2001 Ben Younger directed an excellent movie about greedy young men called Boiler Room. In it he achieved something remarkable: he drew good dramatic performances out of Ben Affleck and Vin Diesel. Now he's taken a crack at romantic comedy with Prime.

Prime is pretty conventional stuff, but with one neat twist: a nice young Jewish boy falls in love with an older divorcée who's not only not Jewish, but is one of his therapist mom's favorite patients. The romance is really heating up before anybody discovers this. The therapist mom Lisa Metzger (Meryl Streep) is a conventional Upper West side Jewish lady who shares her conventional Jewish family's view that her son must marry a nice Jewish girl. She has been egging her patient on, till she realizes who the young man is. Now her conflicting roles as liberal therapist and conservative Jewish mother throw her into a comical agony of indecision. It's against her principles to encourage her son in this. But as a fling it seemed a great idea for her patient. And now they really seem in love. What is she to do?

The romance itself, complete with conventional magic dates and hot sex -- balanced out by scenes between Dave and his loving friend Morris, a James Beluchi type (the appealing Jon Abrahams) who can't get beyond date one -- is inter-cut with the humorous therapy sessions in which Dr. Metzger is first dubious, then delighted, finally envious -- and then appalled as the graphic reports of the affair lead her to the surprise revelation -- and like Dr. Melfi in The Sopranos, she eventually has to see her own therapist to try to deal.

It's all very amusing and entertaining, but Younger loads his dice in several unnecessary ways. There's an odd pull between harping on Jewishness and Hollywood homogenization. What's going on is that the whole situation is being sanitized. Streep doesn't do one of her famous ethnic accents. Her impersonation is limited to a matronly look and big glasses; she's so good that you sort of imagine she's Jewish, but she doesn't actually adopt any mannerisms to underline the fact, which are farmed out to her parents, who talk about who's getting married to what occupation, and moving to Florida, and Bubba, his dad's mom, a pure shtetl type who hit herself on the head with a pan when she learned he was dating a black girl. But Bubba is only an image flashed on the screen for seconds; she's almost like a bad dream.

Bryan Greenberg, who plays the son and lover, Dave Bloomberg (Dr. Metzger's married name), is a little like Cameron Douglas in Michael Douglas's It Runs in the Family. He's a wayward Jewish son. He's a fantasy Hollywood Jewish boy, a Jewish boy who's in no way Jewish -- except for his family. He's down with the 'hood, he's not into books, he plays basketball. No way is he going to become a doctor. He's a talented painter who specializes in portraits of people of color. All this is just sketched in, but you have only to look at the actor's six feet and perfect torso, not to mention his fun-loving grin, to know he's no rabbi's son.

The dice are equally loaded with Uma. She's not really that much older than Greenberg, and she's amazing and vibrant and real. What healthy 23-year-old guy of any ethnic persuasion would care about the age difference? And as Dr. Metzger points out, Dave and Uma are both in their sexual prime. The issues are all on paper here. This is the trouble with this comedy. It's fun watching the actors. There's good chemistry between Uma and Bryan. They're both great looking and charming. Streep's acting is as impeccable as ever. The writing is smooth as silk -- so smooth you don't notice till later that you've been served a very retro dish.

Prime chugs along entertainingly, but unfortunately it doesn't arrive anywhere very interesting -- or even very up-to-date in terms of the prevalence of "out" marriages among American Jews (52% on up to 90%, depending on region). This is like the equally retro Italian The Last Kiss, in reverse. There, the "revolutionary" act was staying in a conventional marriage. Here, it's avoiding an unconventional one. It's disappointing when a sprightly, well acted movie leads to such a banal conclusion. But that's par for Hollywood romantic comedies these days.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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