Although at first glance this might seem to be a fairly typical romantic comedy, the utter lack of fame of the male lead compared with that of the two female stars on the poster should be an indication that this is a movie that’s not so easy to pigeonhole.
Yes, it’s set in New York. Yes, there’s some typical use of well-worn themes of New York Jewishness and sessions with therapists. But despite sharing many ideas with many other films, it is the central dilemma created by Uma Thurman’s character finding out she is dating her therapist’s son, rather than any racial or romantic obstacles, that creates the tension and humour at the heart of the film.
Uma Thurman’s continued star status is one of those bizarre Hollywood aberrations. In a town where you’re only supposed to be as good as your last movie and where to be a female lead you generally have to be in your early 20s, that Thurman’s career could have survived such a large number of flops – from 1993’s Even Cowgirls Get The Blues through 1997’s Batman Robin, 1998’s The Avengers and last year’s Be Cool – is little short of incredible. Yes, she has kept up her street cred thanks to her uber-cool outings with Quentin Tarantino, and aged 36 she remains sexy and stylish. But although she remains a big name, the number of average to bad movies she’s made far outweighs the number of genuinely good ones.
Thurman’s co-star Meryl Streep, on the other hand, has had one of the most consistently outstanding careers of any star in Hollywood’s history. Nominated for Oscars on no less than 13 occasions – more than any other actor – Streep has turned in consistently superb performances in a string of consistently decent and very varied movies throughout her 30-year career.
This difference in star quality is heightened even further by the character relationships here. Thurman’s role as patient to Streep’s psychiatrist obviously puts her in the more vulnerable, junior position, as does her relative youth – although Streep, approaching 57 this year, seems to have maintained her looks far better than most. Then there’s the respective reactions of the two characters to the revelation of the film’s central conceit – Streep’s attempts at calm professionalism and hiding her realisation of the truth providing some of the film’s best moments, where Thurman’s more girlish character simply goes a bit hyperactive.
Although with Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction Thurman has proved that she can do cool and sexy with the best of them, she has yet to sufficiently to show herself capable of comedy. Add to that the focus on the relationship between a girlfriend and her boyfriend’s mother, which could easily make it sound a bit like last year’s dire Jennifer Lopez vehicle Monster in Law, and this may start sounding like one to avoid.
Streep, however, has proved herself adept at pretty much every style of acting and every film genre going, and here provides the linchpin that keeps the entire movie hanging together.
With a lesser actress in Streep’s role, Thurman’s performance would not have been solid enough to pass muster, yet old Meryl once again has proven that she’s enough on her own to subtly save a film from disaster, imbuing what could have been a tired set-up with a freshness that will keep fans of light, semi-romantic comedies more than happy.