Keeping the Faith (2000)

Directed by Edward Norton
Written by Stuart Blumberg
Starring Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman, Edward Norton, Anne Bancroft, Eli Wallach

My Advice: Wait and Rent It.

Three best friends grow up together in New York City. One day, the young lady of the trio moves away, leaving the two young men distraught. But they get over it, as young men do, and grow up to become a priest (Norton) and a rabbi (Stiller). Yes, it sounds like we're setting up a joke here, and even the characters are well aware of that. Everything's fine until one day, the girl comes back to town for a visit. But she's not a girl anymore--she's grown up to be Jenna Elfman. And now, both of the guys (and many members of the audience) find themselves attracted to her. But there are complications, apart from this being a triangle--the rabbi has a brother who married a gentile and became ostracized from the family and the priest is...well, a priest.

For the most part, as I watched the film I thought the character interactions were something you could see Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn pulling off sometime in the 1940's. Except of course for characters frolicking on a bed, but you know what I mean. It has that feel of a classic comedy and this works to its benefit. What also works are the three stars. Norton has pretty much convinced me he could play pretty much any role he decided to. Comedy comes to him as easily as intense drama. Stiller is perfectly cast as the rabbi. His scenes on a date with an over-zealous fitness nut (Lisa Edelstein) are quite amusing. The stand-out of the film in my opinion, though, is Elfman. She nails the businesswoman-on-a-mission role perfectly and I think she should get out more and not be limited to playing the female love interest. As a bonus we have great supporting roles such as Anne Bancroft as Stiller's mother, who's particularly good, and also Milos Forman has a small role as Norton's mentor. Also of humorous note are Brian George as an Indian bartender in an Irish bar and Ken Leung as a karaoke master. The film also gets points for opening with a Tom Waits song and for its innovative use of religious card collectibles.

However, if there's one major drawback to the film, it's just simply too long. I'm not exactly sure why even romantic comedies these days feel the need to stretch past two hours. The film definitely could have been tightened up. Because of its length, when the comedy is suspiciously missing for a while, you can really feel its absence. Still, even with its few flaws, it's a decent little film that manages to balance slapstick comedy while not shying away from the lead characters' issues of faith. A good date comedy if you need one, but otherwise save a few bucks and rent it.

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