Keeping the Faith

No I'll get it. Brian and Jake argue over who will carry Anna's bag (Norton, Elfman and Stiller).
dir Edward Norton scr Stuart Blumberg
with Ben Stiller, Edward Norton, Jenna Elfman, Anne Bancroft, Eli Wallach, Ron Rifkin, Milos Forman, Holland Taylor, Rena Sofer, Ken Leung, Brian George, Lisa Edelstein
Touchstone 00/US 3 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Norton steps behind the camera here (as well as in front of it), and brings us a romantic comedy about religion and friendship. Keeping the Faith is a thoroughly entertaining little film, full of terrific performances and some hilarious moments. And what makes it better than most is the way everything is underscored with honest religious faith and a nicely multi-cultural world view.

Jake and Brian (Stiller and Norton) have been friends all their lives, interested in everything about each other, especially deeply held beliefs that lead Jake to become a rabbi and Brian to become a priest. Both are now working in Manhattan, encouraging each other to liven up their congregations and joining together to build a multi-faith community centre. Then their childhood buddy Anna (Elfman) reappears. She's now a high-powered corporate exec, and things are rather different than when they were 12. Both men find themselves attracted to Anna, which causes the typical problems (Anna's not Jewish; Brian's a priest!) and begins to strain the solid bond Jake and Brian have had all these years.

The serious subtext lifts the film above its essentially fluffy romance plot. Much of the film is quite silly really, but there are frequent moments of honest, bracing insight into church, synagogue, home, community and relationships that give it teeth. It also helps to have three lead actors this gifted at creating believable, interesting characters (Elfman is particularly terrific), while the supporting cast is full of fantastic roles brought to life by pros like Bancroft (Jake's mother), Taylor (Jake's prospective mother-in-law), Wallach and Forman (the old guard in the temple and church, respectively). And Norton's directoral touch is a light one--simple and straightforward, letting the material and the characters speak for themselves. And while he never really bothers to seriously examine the serious implications here--and there are lots of them, from every side--he's also never flippant abotu the honest issues at stake, nicely reminding us that we need faith both in each other and in something bigger than ourselves.

[12--themes, language, innuendo] 5.Oct.00
US release 14.Apr.00; UK release 15.Sep.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall