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   KEEPING THE FAITH (2000) 

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CAST
Ben Stiller
Edward Norton
Jenna Elfman
Anne Bancroft
Eli Wallach
Ron Rifkin
Milos Forman
Holland Taylor

DIRECTED BY
Edward Norton

PURCHASE


DVD




Time: 128 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Romanctic Comedy

SYNOPSIS: Best friends, a priest and a rabbi, fall in love with the same girl. However, neither of the men can pursue the relationship due to their religious beliefs: the priest cannot break his vow of celibacy and the rabbi cannot marry her since she is not Jewish.


Though I find Edward Norton to be a very good actor and Ben Stiller to be immensely funny, there was just something about the concept of a priest and a rabbi falling in love with the same woman that seemed highly contrived with the potential of being just the beginning of a bad joke. I know it got fairly decent reviews, but it just wasn't a film I was going to race out and see. Now that it's on DVD, I had the chance to watch it and though it had it's moments, they were not enough to save this plodding, over-the-top, love triangle comedy. Stiller and Norton are great as the rabbi and priest trying to bring their religions into the 21st century. It's the romantic angle I had a problem with. It was as well-written as I think it could be and I liked Jenna Elfman, but I just didn't buy the problems and issues it created, not in the year 2000.

I know there are plenty of families who want their children to marry someone from their own religion, but there are worse things in the world. I thought the secret romance between Stiller and Elfman's characters really brought the film down. I know it's supposed to be a romantic comedy, but it's not what I expected. Norton manages to keep the emotions from getting out of hand and creates somewhat realistic situations. However, I never really believed that these two people would have been attracted to each other. They were both good-looking, smart and fun, but I just didn't see any true chemistry. The scenes where Stiller and Elfman are together are funny, but they were never sexy or romantic. I didn't want to see her get together with Norton either. Stiller and Norton's attraction to Elfman just seemed like a convenient way to test the faith and convictions of the leading men. I know she was supposed to be this magical creature from their past, but she just didn't seem overly special to me, at least not enough to cause so much soul-searching.


"Don't look at me in that tone of voice."

The film opens with Father Brian Finn (Norton) on the drinking binge of his life. Seems he's found himself in a bit of a moral dilemma. He's just embarrassed himself by declaring love to his childhood friend Anna (Elfman), whom he was seriously considering leaving the priesthood for. Unfortunately, unknown to him, she fell in love with their other best friend Rabbi Jake Schram (Stiller), with whom she's been carrying on a secret affair. This situation would be bad enough, but it seems that Jake is unwilling to commit to a relationship with Anna because she's not Jewish and he doesn't want to let down his mother (Bancroft) or his congregation, both of whom are expecting him to marry someone from his own faith. His position in the synagogue is tentative at best – the younger crowd loves his offbeat sermons, but the older crowd just wants things to stay the same as they have always been. Jake is torn between his love for his job and his love for a woman he knows is the right one for him.

That's the basics of the story. The film goes a long way to establish both these young men as responsible pillars of their communities, even though their methods of getting butts into their various houses of worship are slightly unorthodox. It's clear that both men love their jobs and the influence they have on the members of their congregations. I found these sections of the film to be quite amusing and fresh. When their old friend Anna shows up in New York City for a few months, she's like a breath of fresh air...only one whose time they both want to occupy. Since Jake is allowed to date and Brian isn't, the film instantly becomes one-sided with Brian being pushed to the side. He can't be a contender for her affections, so why would they keep their relationship a secret from him? Of course, if they don't they wouldn't be able to develop the love triangle aspect. What Norton fails to realize is there's enough meat to the story without it. They could still have kept the relationship a secret from Jake's mother and congregation.

I think they did it just so Father Brian could wrestle with his calling and impress upon the audience what a sacrifice and commitment being in the service of God is. However, it just ends up making him look like a chump and no one needs that. Then again, if they didn't have Brian go through some sort of moral dilemma the film would have been horribly lopsided. The issues Jake has to deal with in terms of his mother and the synagogue seem very realistic. I know several people who have "divorced" their children for marrying someone of a different faith. What these people fail to understand is that they're just hurting themselves by turning their children against them, a lesson Jake's mother learned the hard way. Anna is willing to do whatever it takes to make the relationship work, but Jake doesn't believe there's any way it can. Ye of little faith. After getting over his feelings of betrayal, Brian and Jake make up, becoming friends again, even though Brian doesn't agree with Jake's assessment of the situation. In the end, the trio finds peace and friendship and a little love.

It's rare to see a film these days that tackles the challenges of the religious life in such a respectful and endearing way and for that Norton should be commended. Both men are devoted to their callings, but aren't perfect. There faults and failings are quite human and surprisingly funny. I enjoyed those parts of the film more than the love story aspect. They also manage to make their friendship seem genuine, even though their belief systems are quite different. Stiller and Norton are quite funny and I wish this was more of a buddy picture – the priest and rabbi solving crimes or something to that affect. Much more amusing. If you're looking for a romantic comedy that has something different to say, than KEEPING THE FAITH is not a bad way to go. There's no reason for it to be over 2 hours. Losing 10 or 15 minutes probably would have helped a great deal. It's certainly not the most romantic or funny film I've ever seen, but it's better than most films and certainly has a lot of heart. You could do a lot worse.



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