Most of the films reviewed by the L’Chaim have been dramas, so we felt it was time for a comedy. And what a comedy we have found with the recent “Keeping the Faith” starring Ben Stiller and Ed Norton! Norton also directed this 2000 movie about the friendship of a priest and rabbi who fall for the same girl, Jenna Elfman. Not content with this comic love-triangle, the film also deals with important religious themes including breaking traditions and interfaith relationships.
By far, the best thing this movie has going for it is the acting. All three major characters, portrayed by Stiller, Norton, and Elfman, are likable and have good chemistry between them. Yet it is the performances by the supporting cast which seem to really stand out. The great Eli Wallach plays a retiring rabbi, the famous director Milos Forman plays a mentor priest, and Anne Bancroft plays a Jewish mother. There are also a few characters which only appear in very short segments, such as an Indian bartender (Brian George), a karaoke machine salesman (Ken Leung), and a Jewish girl that Stiller dates (Lisa Edelstein), who really steal the show.
The cinematography, with sweeping vistas of New York, is excellent. And the soundtrack is pretty good; it contains some contemporary songs, a very rousing version of “Ein Keloheinu,” and a more traditional version of “Kol Nidre.”
While some of the jokes are real gems, many unfortunately are rather clichéd. How many times have we seen a person storm out of a room after a fight only to return a few seconds later saying, “This is my place; you get out,” or a suitcase turn out to be unexpectedly heavy?
But perhaps a stronger criticism is that the serious issues which this romantic comedy purports to address seem all too easy. The struggle with faith seems superficial, and the resolutions too simple and Hollywoody.
If, in the end, you cannot say the film has offered any deep spiritual insight or serious religious examination, like some of the dramas reviewed in the L’Chaim over the last months, it is because it is a comedy and makes no pretensions about shaking up contemporary religion. Taken on its own terms, “Keeping the Faith,” is a warm, feel-good comedy that will make you laugh, make you feel for the characters, and remind you of some of the fun of your own religious experiences. Expect no more, and you won’t be disappointed.