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Keeping the Faith

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Keeping the Faith

Starring: Edward Norton, Ben Stiller
Director: Edward Norton
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 129 Minutes
Release Date: April 2000
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Jenna] Elfman, Eli Wallach, Anne Bancroft, Holland Taylor, Milos Forman, Ron Rifkin, Catherine Lloyd Burns, Rena Sofer

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

The title character in Jeremy Pikser and Warren Beatty's rollicking and prescient movie "Bulworth" believes that we can solve the problem of racial tensions in America if everyone would "mix it up" on the marriage bed (he put it in a more vulgar and more effective way). The folks who made "Keeping the Faith" have a similar vision. Although less radical than Beatty in "Bulworth," "Keeping the Faith" director Edward Norton forwards the agenda that superficial differences among people be discarded like so much confetti--littering the landscape today, gone tomorrow.

In his amiable and consistently entertaining movie, the highly diversified Mr. Norton--who is superlative in films as disparate as "Fight Club," "Rounders," and "The People vs. Larry Flynt"--now demonstrates his dexterity at the helm of a movie that is as much a paean to harmony and happiness as Woody Allen's "Everyone Says I Love You." Filmed appropriately in New York, this country's most diverse metropolis, "Keeping the Faith" is about the friendship between a priest and a rabbi that could make you think of the long period of camaraderie between former New York mayor Ed Koch and Cardinal O'Connor. While Emanuel Levy, writing for "Variety" magazine, calls this a date movie for the 20 and 30 set, his view strikes discord with the movie's own theme--that we should avoid labeling people according to superficial attributes like race and religion and presumably by age as well. "Keeping the Faith" is a high- spirited, feel-good film which avoids the sophomoric predictability of more typically commercial feel-good fare such as Adam Sandler's vehicle "The Waterboy."

Recalling such films as James L. brooks's "Broadcast News"--about a highly-charged woman who produces a TV news program who is attracted to an anchorman quite different from her in temperament--"Keeping the Faith" is a buddy movie about a threesome who considered themselves inseparable during their days in junior high school but whose camaraderie ends when the female member splits for a high-power job in San Francisco. This leaves Jake (Ben Stiller) and his pal Brian (Edward Norton) as a couple of guys who continue their tight relationship--although Jake becomes a rabbi and Brian a Catholic priest. A visit to New York by the third constituent, Anna (Jenna Elfman), threatens not only the affinity of the two young men but the foundation of Brian's very celibacy as a priest.

Written by Stuart Blumberg--who went to Yale with Norton and whose friendship with him perhaps parallels that between the movie's central characters-- "Keeping the Faith" is framed by a tale being told to a bartender by an inebriated Father Brian Finn. Brian goes back to his days as a 12-year-old when he shares a happy rapport with Anna and Jake. The boys are heartbroken when their pal moves cross country but perk up years later as Anna calls Brian to tell him of her imminent trip to New York. "Why did she call you?" Jake wonders aloud, signalling to us the envy might split their brotherhood. As the three relate to one another--Anna ultimately dating Jake while confessing her innermost thoughts to Brian--we are treated to an often hilarious, if familiar, series of takes involving pratfalls, verbal wit, keen insights and moments of sweet tenderness.

Those who follow movies centering on people of the Jewish faith will be accustomed to the stock devices--the mother who wonders when she will have grandchildren, the community pushing daughters on their most eligible bachelor. But given the sometimes wide-eyed, sometimes rolling-eyed expressions of Ben Stiller in Jake's role, we're treated to a high level of entertainment that should be appreciated by people of all denominations. Though Stiller pretty much carries the movie, we're cheered as well by Norton in the role of the priest whose hormones are fighting with his sense of duty and propriety. Like Jake, Brian is a sympathetic figure, one who resorts to popular tricks to build a congregation from a trickle to a full house and whose comprehension of Spanish affords him a good relationship with his mixed community.

The casting of Jenna Elfman as the driven executive, so addicted to connections that she has strapped a cell phone to her thigh, is cogent. She is half a head taller than Stiller but had been well-liked by the junior-high kids because she was a tomboy--"one of them." Side characters are well-cast, including Eli Wallach as Jake's mentor and especially Anne Bancroft as Jake's mom--a role that recalls her performance in the upcoming movie by Philip Haas, "Up at the Villa." The movie has some vulgar excesses. Brian's robes catch fire: he douses the flames by jumping into holy water. Jake faints at a bris. An all-black gospel choir belts out a stirring rendition of "Ain Kalohainu." All of that comes with the territory, and as sanctuaries for the faithful, the church and the temple in "Keeping the Faith" are a hymn not to separatism, but to glorious diversity.

(C) 2000 by Harvey Karten,

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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