Edward NortonBen StillerAnne BancroftEli Wallach
Keeping the Faith
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Edward Norton
Writer: Stuart Blumberg
Actor: Ben Stiller, Edward Norton, Jenna Elfman, Anne Bancroft, Eli Wallach, Ron Rifkin, Milos Forman, Holland Taylor, Lisa Edelstein, Rena Sofer, Ken Leung, Brian George, Catherine Lloyd Burns, Susie Essman, Stuart Blumberg, Jonathan Randell Silver, Brian Anthony Wilson, Juan Piedrahita
Keywords: comedy
Country: USA
Format: 128 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0171433/
Website category: Comedy
Review date: 15 June 2011
It's a romantic comedy starring Edward Norton, Ben Stiller and Jenna Elfman as respectively a Roman Catholic priest, a rabbi and their inseparable childhood friend twenty years ago.
You already know the rest of the plot. Norton also directed the film and had uncredited script input, by the way.
I'm starting to suspect that I'm not the world's biggest fan of comedies. A good one is obviously wonderful, but I've bailed out of a few of them recently and I'm capable of being comparatively uninterested even in one that isn't bad, i.e. this one. I liked it. I liked its charm, with a warm and deep portrayal of friendship. I also liked its protagonists. It's pleasant to spend time with them and I was interested in what they thought about things, since Norton and Stiller's characters are dedicating great intellectual energy to their respective callings and the film's portrayal of Judaism and Roman Catholicism is one of its strongest features.
However I didn't care much about what was happening. I could summarise the plot in two lines and you'd be there before me. It's not that I disliked anyone or indeed the film itself, because I didn't at all, but on some level, I didn't see the point of watching its story. If it had been on television, I'd have probably started doing something else.
Thinking about it, I suspect I'm more tolerant of a drama film that isn't apparently going anywhere. I'll have more faith that I'm watching for a reason. A bad comedy's plotting on the other hand will be more arbitrary. The film will want to work on a dramatic level, obviously, but it will also want to be funny. Not all writers can do both of these things at once. As a result the characters will be more likely to be puppets, or else living a Brownian motion existence in which they either aren't doing anything at all or else are acting for plot convenience. These people in this film are basically happy, successful and getting on with their lives. They're doing well. I'm pleased for them. They're good at their jobs and the film's only source of what you'd call drama involves actual or potential romantic entanglements between them. However...
(a) Norton's a Roman Catholic priest, hence sworn to celibacy. Guess which way the romantic triangle's going to be resolved!
(b) Stiller's a cool, modern rabbi who gets into trouble with his superiors for having too much fun in his sermons, yet he thinks it would be the end of the world if his girlfriend wasn't Jewish. Admittedly the film more or less manages to sell this, given the expectations of this New York Jewish community, but even so I found the finale a bit tortured.
(c) More fundamentally, I don't really care who these people sleep with.
Apart from that, I liked it. I thought the cast were good. I liked its treatment of both of its chosen religions, on which it was respectful, detailed and fun. (On Judaism I found it practically educational.) On the downside I thought 128 minutes was perhaps a little long and that Ed Norton perhaps doesn't have the strongest grip on dramatic structure and direction, which is something I also got from that Incredible Hulk film he helped rewrite. However I liked best the charm that comes from spending time with three good friends who'll support each other until the day they die, no matter what. I was fond of them. It's pleasant to have the movie playing and I'm glad I watched it.
Anne Bancroft's perhaps the stand-out. She's playing a Jewish mother, which is far enough from her usual image that I didn't realise it was her. She's great though. Her family background was actually Italian and Roman Catholic, but also being Mel Brooks's wife of nearly forty years, she'd have known a thing or two about the Jewish community.
Oh, and Rena Sofer is beautiful, but not in it much.
The film was a success. It wasn't a runaway smash, but it had a budget of 29 million dollars and took 60 million worldwide. That's respectable. Personally I feel quite warm towards it and even in places found it amusing, but most of those involved incidental Jewish or Catholic stuff instead of anything related to the main story. I'm also not wild about the notion that a deeply personal scene will become funnier if for some reason people are watching and so it's a public spectacle. As for the three leads... they're nice. I approved of them. I can't pretend they had me riveted to the screen, but they're good, decent people who deserved the successful lives they had.