No, it’s not a prequel to last year’s vertiginous Sundance prizewinner. In his sophomore feature, Ben Younger (Boiler Room) attempts to reinvent himself as a young Woody Allen, reversing the Woodman’s age and gender dynamics but yielding mortifying moments all the same. Two weeks after getting divorced, 37-year-old Rafi (Uma Thurman) falls for 23-year-old David (Bryan Greenberg), not realizing that his mother Lisa (an owlish, bewigged Meryl Streep) is also her therapist. Thus, “cute” scenes where Thurman tells mom about having sex on every surface in the apartment, to Lisa’s humiliation but Rafi’s oblivious delight. Somehow, mother has reasoned against informing either party that she knows the other, and so this allegedly sophisticated comedy quickly descends into immaturity.
Like Rafi’s arrested-adolescent suitor, the movie gets everything just a little off. Bless Younger for actually shooting in New York, but since when did Cinema Village show Antonioni double bills? Would a Lower East Side resident go all the way to Magnolia Bakery for pies (as opposed to cupcakes)? The jailbait angle is softened by the fact that Greenberg looks closer to his actual age of 27; in any case, there’s not one straight 23-year-old male in the world who would throw over sex with Thurman to play another round of Nintendo, nor is it likely that his stereotypically Jewish mother would go an entire film without once mentioning where her son went to college. The relationship would be easier to root for if Greenberg and Thurman demonstrated something like chemistry, but miscasting makes Younger’s third-act complications seem both tentative and arbitrary. Not quite a romance by numbers, Prime is nevertheless a movie we need like a hole in the head.