Did you ever hear the one about the Priest and the Rabbi? You did, huh? Well
I promise you never heard it quite like this before. Okay I'm lying. That
may be what I want to say, but Edward Norton's "Keeping the Faith" is a good
natured, and at times very amusing little comedy which suffers from a lack
of originality. In fact, the biggest thing this movie has going for it are
the performances from the two lead actors. Don't get me wrong, "Keeping The
Faith" contains a few hilarious scenes, but a lot of the comedy feels like
its been done a thousand times over. For example, how many times have you
seen a person in a movie ask to be punched to show how tough they are, only
to collapse when actually hit; or seen a rabbi pass out the first time he
sees a circumcision? Strangely, the lack of originality doesn't ruin the
movie. Because the film is so pleasant natured the rehash of past comic bits
makes it feel comfortable and familiar.
Father Brian Finn (Edward Norton) and Rabbi Jacob Schram (Ben Stiller) have
been friends since childhood, and they've both always known exactly what
they wanted to do with their lives. As children their best friend was Anna
Reilly (Jenna Elfman), who acted just like one of the boys. Now, twelve
years since they last saw Anna, she shows up as a career driven business
woman. Jacob, whose congregation has been trying to set him up with someone
for months, finds himself falling for Anna and she for him. The two decide
to get together, but without telling Brian for fear of alienating him. As
Anna falls further and further in love with Jacob, Jacob begins alienating
himself from Anna. He is afraid that his mother (Anne Bancroft) will disown
him, as she did his brother, for falling for a non-Jew.
I must admit, I was impressed by Edward Norton's abilities as a director,
this being his first time behind the camera. Not only is the man an
incredible actor, but he is now showing talent in other areas as well? Does
this strike anyone else as being a little unfair? Okay, I'm done being
Jealous. "Keeping the Faith" is a rare sort of movie these days. It's a
wholesome yet still highly amusing romantic comedy. When was the last time
you saw a movie made for people over the age of 10 which didn't contain some
act of extreme violence or blatant, explicit sexuality? Okay, my sermon is
now done with as well. I'm sorry about getting so preachy, but I just saw a
movie about a priest and a rabbi, what do you expect? Speaking of getting
preachy, I will say that "Keeping the Faith" has a tendency to do just that
from time to time; but not nearly as much as it could have considering the
Edward Norton may be a very gifted actor, but he obviously has no problem
taking a back seat to other actors. In fact, one of the problems I had with
this movie was that Norton's character is never given the amount of screen
time he deserved. Brian Finn could have been a very interesting character
but is never developed to that point. Ben Stiller's character, Rabbi Jacob,
on the other hand, is given ample screen time. Ben Stiller, previously seen
in the funny but overrated "There's Something About Mary", and the sadly
underrated "Mystery Men", is an actor who is capable of switching from
over-the-top physical comedy to serious acting in a split second. In this
movie he finally given the chance to shine as he has so deserved. The last
bit of casting, Jenna Elfman (Dharma and Greg), was a very poor decision in
my opinion. I have never found Jenna Elfman to be a particularly gifted
actress, and in this case she is asked to carry half the film with her
limited talents (she's also a good two or three inches taller than Stiller,
but that's beside the point).
Besides the somewhat dubious casting of Miss Elfman in a leading role here,
there is one more thing which makes "Keeping the Faith" a good film rather
than a great one. I've always said an important part of a movie is the
soundtrack, and that couldn't be more true in this case. Not only is there
very little music, but when the music is present, it is nearly always
inappropriate for the scene. Watch for Milos Forman (Director of "One Flew
Over the Cuckoo's Nest") in a supporting role as Norton's mentor. Anne
Bancroft ("The Graduate") is perfectly cast as Stiller's mother, but Ron
Rifkin ("Boiler Room") is unfortunately underused as an elder member of
Stiller's congregation. "Keeping the Faith" runs a little too long at 125
minutes. I recommend it to fans of Ben Stiller and romantic comedies in
general and give the film three and a half out of five stars.
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* * * * * - One of the greatest movies ever made, see it now.
* * * * - Great flick, try and catch this one.
* * * - Okay movie, hits and misses.
* * - Pretty bad, see it only if you have nothing better to do.
* - One of the worst movies ever made. See it only if you enjoy pain.
Copyright © 2000 John Beachem