I've always thought Meryl Streep an irritating actress, prissy and overly mannered, although it could be that I've just never got over her walking out on Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer. And the notion of this most gentile of movie stars playing a New York Jewish mother was plainly ridiculous.
Her early scenes in Ben Younger's Prime confirmed my misgivings, her miscasting only accentuated by the disservice done by her wardrobe and hairdressing help. Why had they lumbered her with those absurd heavy-bead necklaces? Was that lank, lifeless hair supposed to look like an Orthodox sheitel?
But I warmed to Prime nonetheless, and to Streep's character in particular, precisely because of the movie's unexpected subtlety and Jewish authenticity. Here we have a mother whose religion is profoundly important to her and her family, and who has chosen to raise her son David in teemingly multicultured New York, grappling with the almost inevitable repercussions of his first serious non-Jewish girlfriend.
Younger plays for plenty of easy laughs - notably via scenes in which David imagines his deceased grandmother whacking herself on the head with a frying pan over his religious infractions - but there's realism, complexity and true compassion here, too.
Rarely and refreshingly, Streep and her family are not caricature Jews. Their religious practices are not lampooned, nor are they glossed over. Her agonizing over the conflict between her son's happiness and his faith is resonant and anything but offensive, and the choices she ultimately makes in dealing with the film's central relationship dilemma reflect an admirable conception of Jewish right and wrong that goes beyond pure Orthodox dogma.
As Spielberg's Munich heaves controversially into view, Prime has been a gentle precursor, showing to well-filled houses in Israel. The evening I saw it, there was a particularly amused ripple at the sight of David, during one of his imagined scenes watching grandma and the frying pan, sporting a T-shirt with the message, "Palestinians do it better." Truly a nightmare vision.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>