Saturday 14 May 2011

From the archive: "Prime"

Another week, another New York City love triangle. Prime has, more than most, the feel of a country-club joke about it. A recently divorced Gentile woman, a habitual nailbiter in her late thirties, walks into her Jewish shrink's office and starts to pour out the details of the affair she's been having with a young man 14 years her junior. This young man has been filled with renewed confidence, learning all about life and art from a woman with Rothko and Coltrane in her collection; she, in turn, gets to run her fingers over a buff stomach on a nightly basis. Still, there's a catch: unbeknownst to the patient (Uma Thurman), the shrink (Meryl Streep) is the boy's mother. Which you might call a conflict of interest.

Aside from a few early lapses into irksome romcom cliche - Thurman's gay best friend really is just there to tick boxes, and the bit where the two lovers abscond into a secret inner-city garden is a direct lift from Notting Hill - Prime proves a perfectly watchable date movie surfing a sunny indie-pic vibe. The generation gap is skilfully defined, always apparent in some form (whether good or bad), and never blanded out as it might have been. The performers, too, are all on good form. Thurman has really blossomed on screen in recent years: gone is the tall, gawky princess who served rather too often as a blank signifier of feminine beauty; in her place, there now stands a genuinely vivacious presence, full of life. (Were that Gwyneth Paltrow able to effect such a transformation.)

It helps that Prime offers her such a blossoming role, of course, but Thurman has never been warmer on screen, has never given us more of a reason (beyond mere looks) to fall in love with her. As the even older woman - the shrink/mother - Streep is initially set up as too much the fusspot momma, rattling about in oversized bracelets and necklaces, but the performance pays off with the look on the actress's face as she attempts to process the info Thurman blithely gives up about her boy's penis, and clings defensively to official statistics about ear wax as her mothering skills are challenged. A whole world away from the chest-beating holler of writer-director Ben Younger's debut Boiler Room, this is a good joke - a joke with some understanding of the complications inherent in growing up - nicely told.

(April 2006; this review was written before The Accidental Husband and Motherhood)

Prime screens on BBC1 this Wednesday at 11.15pm.

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