2 stars (out of four)
In "Prime," a Manhattan romantic comedy that strives for bittersweet realism, Uma Thurman plays Rafi, a knockout fashion photographer who has fallen for a younger man, and Meryl Streep plays Rafi's psychiatrist, Lisa, a seemingly simpatico lady who also happens to be, unbeknownst at first to both of them, Rafi's lover's mother.
That's a pretty racy idea, and the actresses and writer-director Ben Younger ("Boiler Room") have fun with it for a while. Then, as with most contemporary attempts at the kind of sophisticated romantic comedies that used to be Hollywood's specialty of the house, this one shrivels and flames out.
Too much of "Prime" perhaps is given over to the movie's other relationshipthe May-August fireworks between Rafi and Lisa's son, David (Bryan Greenberg)when the movie's more affecting affair, as you might guess, is the subconscious one between the Thurman and Streep characters. Whenever they're on screen togetherThurman as a 37-year-old divorced fashion-shoot whiz and Streep as a 50ish therapist with Upper West Side credentialsthey light it up.
Streep plays Lisa as a blend of hip Freudian and classic Jewish mother, and it's a hoot watching her Manhattan pro's live-and-let-live philosophy gradually become unhinged after she tumbles to the truth, to see her horror at these unbridled sexual revelations about Lisa's cherished 23-year-old son: would-be painter David, an implausible stud who lives with his grandparents and comes on like a TV pitchman.
As Rafi unblushingly raves about David's appetites, endowments and staying power, Lisa tries to stay mum. Thurman, a good foil, keeps an admirably straight face, while the brilliant Streep registers priceless comic discomfort. Even though it's not exactly plausibleor even very amusingthat Lisa deceives her client like this, the two actresses play together with such expertise and relish they smooth over the rough spots.
Unfortunately, there are other scenes in "Prime": the actual boy-girl (or boy-woman) romance bits set in a world of chi-chi bars, Village Voice-approved restaurants and pseudo-"Blow-Up" fashion studios. In these scenes, Younger reveals his "Annie Hall" complex. With an uncertain touch and lots of wit shortages, he tries and fails to make one of those wacky, sad, blighted romances that were Woody Allen's stock in trade until he alienated his base, the kind of comic love affair that scars and tenderizes your heart when it doesn't work out.
In this movie, I never wanted it to work. From the moment Rafi and David first meet, at an Antonioni revival bill of "Blow-Up" and "Zabriskie Point," there's something queasy-making about the whole affairand not because of their age difference. There's a kind of morality or sensibility gap. Greenberg is an engaging enough actor, but he's been encouraged to give David the looks and moves of an on-the-prowl urban stud, the kind of guy who belongs in Younger's previous movie, "Boiler Room" (a poor man's "Wall Street" starring Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Affleck and Vin Diesel as young shark-ish brokers).
Rafi is occasionally a little chilly, in Thurman's usual style. But David, who's supposed to be at least somewhat dreamy and sensitive (especially at the end) is something of a jerk throughoutand not just in the half-charming, curable adolescent ways Younger obviously criticizes. David's pal Morris (Jon Abrahams) is even worse: a smart-alecky little crumb bum, whose running gag is his habit of smashing morning-after custard pies in the faces of dates who apparently won't put out for him.
I found nothing likable or funny about either of these characters, who both deserve a pie in the face. (One of them even gets it.) The subsidiary charactersRafi's and David's families and other friends and workmatesare a collective sitcom blank, and the movie is drearily lit and paced.
Then comes the ending: a surprisingly affecting sequence that's been stolen, naturally, right out of "Annie Hall": the "Seems Like Old Times" coda. (Here the song under the flashbacks is French balladeer Charles Trenet's "I Wish You Love") That scene almost softens your heart, but it's not enough. Neither is the memory of all that good, juicy interplay between Streep and Thurman, the one couple that really strikes some sparks in "Prime."
Directed and written by Ben Younger; photographed by William Rexer; edited by Kristina Boden; production designed by Mark Ricker; music by Ryan Shore; produced by Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd. A Universal release of a Universal Pictures, Stratus Film Co. presentation of a Team Todd/Younger Than You production; opens Friday. Running time: 1:45. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sexual content including dialogue and for language).
Lisa Metzger - Meryl Streep
Rafi Gardet - Uma Thurman
David Bloomberg - Bryan Greenberg
Morris - Jon Abrahams
Randall - Zak Orth
Katherine - Annie ParisseCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun