Prime: indulge in Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman's ultra 2000s cross-faith romcom

Cheesy, PG-rated and unexpectedly moving, Prime is the kind of film that doubles as both comfort watch and thoughtful provocation

Everyone needs a go-to, feel-good romantic comedy and this one’s mine. A classic 2000s film by way of its music and fashion – think Uma Thurman in low-rise cargo pants – Prime is your standard, cheesy and PG-rated yet steamy romcom. However, the film is elevated by its use of realistic dialogue and a clever script twist that will make you chuckle and consider some deeper universal issues along the way.

In Prime, director and writer Ben Younger chose to develop a character-driven love story for his second film while also paying homage to his home town, New York City, and his cross-cultural Jewish roots. With some big star involvement including Thurman and Meryl Streep, the film begins like any other romcom: with a meet-cute. Rafi (Thurman), a recently divorced 37-year-old woman meets David (Bryan Greenberg), a 23-year-old aspiring Jewish painter. Soon, they fall in love. The beginning of their love story is sweet and tender, with lingering, lustful looks upon their first encounter at the cinema, followed by a nerve-wracking but gutsy first-date phone call by David. In a short period, their relationship turns into insatiable passion and love despite their age gap.

Things get complicated when Rafi’s therapist, the devout Dr Lisa Metzger (Streep), discovers her client’s new love interest and “the best sex of my life” is actually her son. It’s this second storyline that adds depth to the narrative and shifts this romcom into another gear.

Rafi (Uma Thurman) on her therapist’s couch.
Rafi (Uma Thurman) on her therapist’s couch. Photograph: Universal/Everett/Rex Features

What ensues is both heartwarming and humorous as the film lightly explores the ethics of client-therapist confidentiality, cultural and religious clashes and the age gap. The viewer has the benefit of unravelling these topics through behind-the-scenes moments in Rafi’s therapy sessions and within Lisa’s home, in which her attitude and advice are the reverse.

Upon the questionable advice from her own therapist, Lisa continues providing treatment for Rafi. However, here is where the dialogue and acting chops of one of the greatest actors of the 21st century kicks in. In a therapy session in which Rafi gushes about her sexual adventures with David, it’s Streep’s humour and idiosyncrasies that really make the scene. She gulps, pours and re-pours copious amounts of water to prevent the word vomit from spurting out.

Brian Greenberg, Uma Thurman, Meryl Streep, 2005 ‘PRIME’ FILM - 2005
Happy families? Photograph: c Universal/Everett/Rex Features

With a light touch, the film exposes the challenges of parent and child relationships when culture and religion clash with desire. Lisa wishes her son to marry within his faith. In one conversation, she asks him the stinging question, “Do you not value your culture and religion?”, to which David responds, “It’s not one or the other.” He follows this by exclaiming, “Do you hear yourself? You’re a therapist; you would never say [these things] to a patient.”

It’s a dynamic that resonates across cultures. As a first generation Chinese-Australian woman, these conversations and behaviours around the complexities of family, religion, culture, individuality, relationships and love felt familiar to me.

The film also draws attention to an alternative and acceptable form of love – the one that doesn’t last forever. As Streep’s character advises, “Sometimes you love, you learn and you move on. And that’s OK.” Connections for however long a period of time can be invaluable, profound and change. Prime allows you to indulge in a sexy romcom while touching on some life lessons that may resonate with you longer than you expect.

• Prime is available to stream in Australia on Apple iTunes. For more recommendations of what to stream in Australia, click here


Ying-Di Yin

The GuardianTramp

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