Meryl Streep hasn't been funny now for a long time. In fact, she hasn't even been very interesting. It hurts me to say this, for I practically had drinks thrown in my face when she was an icon back in the '80s, defending her immaculate talent to boorish iconoclasts at cocktail parties. (What do untenured junior faculty know anyway?)
I'd put Streep's work in comedies like Heartburn and Postcards from the Edge any day up against her accent-dramas like Sophie's Choice, Out of Africa and Silkwood. She's gloriously droll when the line allows it, and she uses her face like Nick Park uses clay.
Writer/director Ben Younger's Prime gives Streep her most succulent comedic role in a while, and when the script cooperates, so does Magic Meryl. But all in all Younger has nothing new to say, and he simply doesn't say it funny enough. His movie is a relationship comedy that spends too much time on the hackneyed former. Still, when it hits, I laughed, often heartily.
In Prime, Streep is Lisa Metzger, an Upper West Side therapist counseling Rafi (Uma Thurman), who's 37, newly divorced, and anxiously ticking away her childbearing years. At a screening of Blowup, she meets David Bloomberg (Bryan Greenberg), who's 23, an aspiring artist, witty and cute. They begin a relationship, which distresses David's Jewish mother -- who, you'll be surprised to learn, is Lisa Metzger.
Younger, who made the punchy young-Turks-on-Wall-Street drama Boiler Room, owes a small debt to Woody Allen. But then, who doesn't (if you're a Jewish New York filmmaker). He owes a bigger debt to Streep, who made the audience laugh when I saw the movie, although I fear some people laughed at her lines rather than the way she performed them. On the other hand, Streep is no ventriloquist, and she even drinks water funny in Prime, so maybe they got her after all.
The only thing Streep can't do is convince us she's Jewish: Among non-Jewish older actresses, only Olympia Dukakis can do that. (I know, I'm a bigot: but for the Left.) Unfortunately, her co-stars get more screen time in Prime than she does. Greenberg, who will make a great TV star some day, is rather dull, but his dullness is effective and real, so he's highly pleasant to watch. Thurman, on the other hand, is still very pretty, and little else. She needs to shoot heroin, or someone, I guess.
Prime takes place in a very romantic New York City -- a gallery owner gives David a show immediately upon seeing his derivative art -- and Younger films his exteriors handsomely. It's his badly framed interior scenes that seem like he let his DGA intern take the camera. His movie has an easy, mellow, unforced rhythm and some good comic timing. I enjoyed watching it. I just can't say enough good things about it. Literally.