Screenplay Review: Prime
Before I go any further, one slight note. I have met Ben Younger a few times. We grew up in the same circles and had many mutual friends. This is not to say I'm a friend of his, and I don't even know if he would have any idea who I am. But I think it is fair that I mention that in advance.
On a different side note, it is interesting that I received his script to read. Over the years that I have been a script reader, I have received scripts by authors that I knew personally on at least 4 different occasions, perhaps more. I always tell the company this before I read the script, on the chance that they would prefer someone else read it. But they are usually fine with it, as long as I'm honest, which I believe I always am. Perhaps I'll make a separate post about this strange phenomenon a different time, but it is odd and mildly amusing nonetheless.
Anyway, on to Prime...
Significant Spoiler Warning!
The script I read was presumably an early draft, dated 11/12/02, just a few days before I did my coverage on it. So decent amounts may have been altered between then and now, though based on a review I read, one of my primary objections appears not to have been rectified.
Regardless, I thought generally highly of the script, though I had some significant reservations. While I thought it was a generally mature and realistic romance, it dipped a bit too frequently into clichés of the genre. Such clichés worked poorly in their own right, and even more so due to their incongruousness in the context of a more realistic film overall. Still, I felt that Younger's script made some very wise structural decisions that a lesser screenwriter might not have made.
Ultimately, I felt the script was worth further consideration, though the issues needed to be addressed. I summarized my comments as such:
Generally surprising romance, that unfortunately sways into hackneyed territory a bit too often. Still, with rewrites to excise those elements, this could be a very fresh and realistic romance, though its ending is not as happy as some people would like. This can be both a good and bad thing, but should probably not be changed.
Here are my overall comments:
To say that Prime is somewhat formulaic and unoriginal at times would not be an understatement, but it would be a relatively irrelevant one, since romances rarely are anything but formulaic. What differentiates the good from the bad are the original elements the author brings to the formula, and the ways in which he surprises us. On this front, Prime offers mixed, though generally positive results. Though many scenes are entirely hackneyed, the main storyline offers some originality of concept, and also some true surprises, a rarity for a film of this nature.
Certainly, the greatest surprise here occurs as the first major turning point. When we see that Dave's mom is Rafi's therapist, there will be few people who have imagined this or figured it out. And it works brilliantly, by increasing the size of the obstacles in the way of their relationship. There already are the age and religious differences, but this huge obstacle just tops them both. And it also works well to create dramatic tension. Younger makes other good structural choices from there forward, not waiting too long until Lisa discovers the true nature of their relationship. A poorer screenplay would have left the main drama at "when will Lisa discover her son and patient are dating?" Younger recognizes the inevitability of this revelation, and moves into it quickly, allowing the tension to move into, "how long will Lisa keep this knowledge from Rafi and David?" This is a much more dramatic issue. Another pleasing surprise comes at the end, when we see that Rafi and David do not end up together, yet in some way, the final smile makes this a happy ending despite the fact that it ends in a way we don't expect.
Still, the little scenes along the way are not original enough, playing instead like a highlight reel of previous romantic films. The "secret" garden, the dinner at Travelart aided by the guard, the painting that Dave does of Rafi, and Tony's help in getting them together again (surprise -- he finally smiles!), just to name a few, are all romance movie clichés. The film would benefit tremendously if all of these trite elements were entirely removed and replaced with more original scenes during rewrites. They seem totally artificial when placed up against the realistic nature of Dave and Rafi's relationship, his family relationships, and the obstacles they face.
Also solid in this script is the humor, both situationally and in terms of dialogue. Overall, this is balanced with drama as well, though, making this into a stronger film. Thus, Younger has created a solid romance that is at once believable and surprising. But he also seems to have missed his mark by a bit, in that he has distracted us by including many clichéd elements, rather than remaining as original throughout. And the ending could also detract somewhat from the potential of this film.
By the way, I find the advertising campaign that Universal has given the movie poor and counterproductive, to a certain degree. The major reversal that I mentioned is revealed, and in fact highlighted, in the advertising, removing any surprise from anyone who sees the advertising. I liked this reversal when I read the script, as it was deftly handled and truly worked surprisingly. More significantly, the ad campaign makes it seem as if this is what the entire film is about, while at least in the script that I read, this was only the first act.
You'll also note my comment about the ending. I recognized that some might find the ending less than typically happy, and this could potentially hurt the audience draw. But I still felt it wise to keep the ending, as it works artistically. A more "happy ending" in which Dave and Rafi somehow work through their differences would feel trite in comparison to the realistic style of the film overall. It is just too bad that Ben did not also (as it seems from the reviews -- I have yet to see the film) cut out some of the more hackneyed trappings along the way. Without them, this film might have instead played like a New York Jewish version of Before Sunrise.
Tags: screenwriting, Prime, Ben+Younger, movie+review