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Overall Rating
2.91

Awesome: 2.33%
Worth A Look39.53%
Average: 27.91%
Pretty Bad: 6.98%
Total Crap: 23.26%

5 reviews, 13 user ratings


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Prime
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Let us now sit and sing the praises of Uma"
4 stars

Uma Thurman is one of those rare actresses whose very presence in a film serves as an indication that something interesting will be happening–at least during the scenes in which she appears. This is not simply a comment regarding her incredible beauty–this is a subject that has been discussed by moviegoers ever since she made her memorable early appearances in “Dangerous Liasons” and “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and requires no further lucubration here–but one regarding her equally impressive skills as an actress. She has done a wide variety of films–from period dramas (“Henry & June”) and small chamber pieces (“Tape”) to weirdo comedies (“Pulp Fiction”) and broad action extravaganzas (the “Kill Bill” saga)–and I don’t think I have ever seen her turn in a performance that wasn’t at least interesting. She always manages to find an intriguing angle from which to approach her characters and, as a result, she can make a strong movie shine even brighter (her performance in the “Kill Bill” saga was a real gem that was sadly overlooked by too many people who couldn’t see past the blood and the kung-fu homages) and, perhaps more significantly, bring a weak film to life the moment she walks on screen. (I was just watching “Batman & Robin” again–this is something that people sometimes do–and damned if she wasn’t throwing herself fully into a project that she must have realized would be a disaster after the first day of shooting.)

If you doubt this, check out her performance in the new romantic comedy “Prime.” By all normal critical standards, it is a wildly uneven film that uneasily mixes serious dramatic ideas with broad slapstick and broader ethnic humor before devolving into an endless and throughly unsatisfying third act. If this were a film starring Jennifer Aniston or Halle Berry, just to name a couple of random popular actresses, I probably would have jammed my face into the nearest box fan before the halfway point in a desperate attempt to make it stop. And yet, Thurman comes in from left field and pretty much saves the entire enterprise with a performance that thoroughly outclasses and outsmarts the film that it has been showcased in. With her, what might have otherwise been an utterly excruciating experience becomes reasonably watchable.<

She plays Rafi, a New York career woman still reeling from the aftermath of the end of a nine-year marriage. One night, while waiting in line with friends for an Antonioni double-feature (and you can tell that this film is essentially a fantasy because a.) there hasn’t been a line outside any Antonioni film in 30 years and b.) no one even remotely resembling Uma Thurman has ever been spotted in the audience for an Antonioni revival), she meets David (Bryan Greenberg) and sparks immediately fly between them. The next night, David calls her up for dinner and things go so well that it isn’t until a liquor store clerk asks to see his ID that she realizes that he looks a little young. It turns out, in fact, that he is only 23 while she is 37. This fact does bother her (perhaps not as much as it may bother the audience that they are watching a film in which Uma Thurman is playing the “older woman” role) but when she confesses this to her shrink, Lisa Metzger (Meryl Streep), the good doctor advises her to forget about it and have the fun that she clearly deserves.<

Rafi does and before long, she is giddily describing the details of her rejuvenated sex life to Dr. Metzger, who is somewhat less than thrilled to hear them. You see, Dr. Metzger knows something that Rafi doesn’t know (as does anyone who has seen the spoilerific commercials)–David is actually her son and she is appalled that he is dating someone who is both older and a Gentile. However, in an ethical lapse that the movie tries to gloss over, Dr. Metzger decides to continue seeing Rafi without telling her the truth on the theory that her relationship with David is a fling that can’t possibly last. It continues, however, and when the truth finally comes out, it inspires a series of rifts between all three of them that can only be solved with a series of awkwardly-written scenes.<

People watching “Prime” will probably be surprised to learn that it is the work of writer-director Ben Younger, who made his debut a few years ago with the very different “Boiler Room.” While that film was channeling the spirit of David Mamet in virtually every scene, “Prime” sees him slavishly following in the footsteps of mid-period Woody Allen. The trouble here, as it was with “Boiler Room,” is that while he has all the outer trapping of Allen’s work down pat (self-deprecating Jewish humor, meet-cutes at repertory theaters and a vision of New York where the only blacks on display are either doormen, security guards or jazz musicians), it doesn’t have the brilliant writing that used to make Allen’s work such a joy to watch. The romance between David and Rafi never seems as grand and passionate as they profess it to be and when they do split apart, it is for stupid reasons that exist only to close the second act (although anyone in the audience would have been willing to kick David to the curb when he forsakes the sight of Uma Thurman wearing only a nightshirt and a come-hither look for his Playstation). The upended doctor-patient dynamic would seem like fertile ground–after having confessed your darkest secrets to someone in total confidence, how would you deal with them in an informal social occasion like a family dinner?–but Younger never fully exploits that idea either.<

Instead, he spends his time rehashing the same scenes that we have encountered in every other May-December (okay, May-early July) romance. She takes him to visit her upper-crust pals and he feels left out while they sit around and discuss politics and later, she gets upset that he hangs around the apartment all day and never bothers to clean up. Much screen time is devoted to fretting about the reaction that people will have towards their age difference–unlikely in an age where the union of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher is considered to be the great romance of the time and especially unlikely when the woman looks like Uma Thurman. In addition, there is an exceptionally pointless subplot involving David’s creepy buddy (Jon Abrahams) whose method of dealing with women who have rejected him is to hit them with pies–not only is this never in the least bit funny but when he finally gets the tables turned on him, Younger blows what could have served as either a crowd-pleasing moment or the incident to spark the first big breakup (which would have been more believable than the one seen here) by only showing us the aftermath.<

And yet, even while “Prime” seems to be daring people to hate it for being trite and predictable, Thurman stubbornly and single-handedly rescues it from oblivion. Sure, the film is cheating a little bit by having its 37-year-old divorcee played by someone who is both a living goddess and a few years shy of 37 but these are flaws that can be overlooked because of the way that she turns Rafi into a living and breathing character. She’s good during the scenes where she is carefree and happy and in love but acting in those scenes are like shooting ducks in a barrel. The trick is that she is just as good during the more dramatic moments as well. Check her out during the opening scene in which she discusses the divorce with Dr. Metzger or the moment later on when she discovers who her therapist really is–she brings a dramatic focus and genuine emotion to those scenes that is so dead-on that Younger doesn’t seem to have any idea of what to do with them. This is something that even Meryl Streep–still considered to be the greatest actress of our time (and basically wasted here)–isn’t quite able to pull off in the context of this film.

“Prime” isn’t a particularly good movie–it plays at times like an especially excruciating episode of “Love, American Style” and then tries to tack on a poignant ending that it simply hasn’t earned. However, Thurman is so good in it that I found myself a lot more involved with it that I might have expected. She has made better movies in the past, she will no doubt continue to make better films in the future (and may already have done so if the trailer for “The Producers” is any indication) and may one day look back on it as little more than a silly mistake, much like “Johnny Be Good” or Ethan Hawke. However, her work here is really good and deserves to be seen, even if the movie surrounding it doesn’t.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13318&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/28/05 14:40:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/22/09 Heather Jones Very boring- a waste of my time. Terrible ending. Seemed like scenes were missing. Bad 1 stars
11/23/08 PAUL SHORTT A GO NOWHERE DO NOTHING FILM 1 stars
10/13/08 Shaun Wallner Boring!! 1 stars
5/11/07 MP Bartley Some cliches, but a cut above most rom/coms. Thurman is excellent 4 stars
4/13/07 Scooter Loved every minute of it! 5 stars
8/06/06 Phil M. Aficionado sincere, funny, flawed; watch & chuckle with a glass of wine and appreciation for 2 actors. 4 stars
7/24/06 Vera Mallard Nice, sincere and warm comedy with excellent performances. 4 stars
6/11/06 Chris Alot of my friends didn't like it but I thought it was Woody Allen funny, check it out. 4 stars
4/03/06 Monday Morning Lightweight to the point of meaninglessness. Uma needs to take her shirt off. 2 stars
11/28/05 Elizabeth S Enjoyed Meryl, but awkwardly juggles humor and poignancy. 2 stars
11/21/05 Brianna There was NOTHING in this movie. Horrible dialogue and apparently character development=sex 1 stars
11/21/05 alexandra i love Uma but this movie sucked 2 stars
11/08/05 astrotart Apparently sweet little boytoys are fun for us seasoned women... 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  28-Oct-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 07-Mar-2006

UK
  N/A

Australia
  17-Nov-2005


Directed by
  Ben Younger

Written by
  Ben Younger

Cast
  Uma Thurman
  Meryl Streep
  Jon Abrahams
  Bryan Greenberg
  Annie Parisse
  Jerry Adler



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