*½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B-
starring Meryl Streep, Uma Thurman, Bryan Greenberg, Jon Abrahams
written and directed by Ben Younger
by Travis Mackenzie Hoover Conservatives may actually be right when they say that Hollywood is out of touch--their mistake lies in thinking it's because the major studios don't serve their agenda. More to the point, Hollywood is out of touch with human behaviour, ethical consistency, left or right politics, and simple cause and effect, so much so that the most "normal"-seeming of films is seething with unacknowledged fear and loathing. One might expect a film about a 37-year-old woman dating a 23-year-old man, for instance, to have some feminist or at least Freudian subtext, especially when coupled with the fact that the young man's mother is the older woman's therapist. But Hollywood's version--the pointless and confused Prime--goes out of its way to avoid the dangerous implications of its subject matter, hedging its bets enough times that it's impossible to divine what the hell it's trying to say.
Before we even get down to the brass tacks of the relationship between Rafi (Uma Thurman) and David (Bryan Greenberg), we're treated to Rafi's astoundingly lame therapy sessions with Lisa (Meryl Streep), the latter of whom is a vague and imprecise cheerleader ("Oh, Rafi, you're coming alive!") bearing little resemblance to a reputable shrink. Still, it's a good several minutes before we suspect that Prime has been untouched by human minds--that is, before David accompanies his sociopathic friend Morris (John Abrahams) to throw a pie in the face of a girl who won't go out on a second date with him, at which point we realize that Morris will be both goofy comic relief and a voice of reason for David instead of punished for his misogyny. Would anyone tolerate such a jerk? Only in a movie with its head up its ass.
Hopes that the film will break taboos go sailing out the window once Mother starts flexing her muscles. No ethical therapist would see a patient their son is dating whether the son knows it or not, but Lisa is no ethical therapist--hell, she's no logical one, though she has her own shrink to egg on her stupidity. But her colourful commitment to being a Jewish stereotype--complete with possessiveness and shiksa hatred--leads her to bully David and try to "subtly" sever his ties with Rafi. But the film paints itself into a corner when it realizes it has to affirm family as well as her son's wild oats, and has to find something salvageable in Lisa. Does it succeed? Not really. Does that stop it? Hell, no. By the time Lisa comes clean about her knowledge, she's indulged in some genuinely icky behaviour that can't possibly be erased, transforming the whole back end of the movie into an exercise in pretense and wishful thinking.
All this rigmarole serves to distract from the centre of the movie: Rafi and David and their unusual romance. Surely this is the thing that gives Prime its standout in the marketplace? Yes--but it also contradicts Hollywood practice to such an extent that it must be subverted. Thus, we don't know much about Rafi, aside from the fact that she has an unctuous gay friend (in two scenes) and that she's freshly divorced; the movie largely belongs to David and his struggles to be an artist and get out from under the thumb of his mother (see also: Monster-in-Law). Rafi is so consistently pushed to the margins of representation that you wonder why they bothered with the age angle at all. One imagines an original script that was actually engaged with the woman and subsequently crushed by the industrial machine: how else to explain a gimmick without follow-through? In this case, Hollywood isn't even looking out for its own interest in gratification, making the result that much more baffling.
Though the dread "Universal jaundice" is ever present in the film's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD transfer, colours are nicely-saturated and fine detail is reasonably good. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is equally fine, remarkably sharp and rich; surround cues are interesting for what is an uncomplicated but not unarticulated mix. Extras begin with a feature-length commentary from director Ben Younger and producer Jennifer Todd, who show their colours immediately by introducing themselves as each other--and the cuteness never lets up from there. There's precious little useful information apart from the names of the streets we're seeing--the NYC local colour and the greatness of certain crewmembers are the focus of the track--but both of them are perky enough to keep you listening. Meanwhile, an eight-minute reel of deleted scenes largely consists of additional footage from existing sequences; most notable is Rafi condescending to a veterinary student at a party and a mother-son argument that unfolds while they ferry grandparents back from a miserable vacation. In short, nothing you'll miss.
A four-minute outtakes reel proves surprisingly interesting, including weird improvisations (Greenberg and Abrahams rapping; a dinner-table scene involving flying cars) as well as the usual bloopers. Finally, "Prime-Time Players" (8 mins.) is the obligatory making-of clip in which the actors say how wonderful the director was and vice-versa. The revelation that Younger is the son of a therapist proves that knowing a therapist is not the same as knowing their trade. Meanwhile, the idea that the film is at once 'reality-based' AND a romantic comedy tells you everything you need to know about the participants. Trailers for Just Like Heaven, Windfall, Something New, and Pride & Prejudice begin on startup.
106 minutes; PG-13; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced); English 5.1, French DD 5.1; English SDH, French, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Universal