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Keeping the Faith

Review by Gregory Avery
Posted 14 April 2000

Directed by Edward Norton.

Starring Ben Stiller, 
Edward Norton, Jenna Elfman, 
Ken Leung, Ron Rifkin, 
Milos Forman, Eli Wallach 
and Anne Bancroft.

Written by Stuart Blumberg.

Keeping the Faith, in which Edward Norton both directed and co-stars, is a perfectly nice little romantic comedy about two guys, Brian (played by Norton) and Jake (Ben Stiller), friends since childhood, and what happens when their childhood sweetheart walks back into their lives -- Anna (Jenna Elfman), who works as a business consultant, and who re-enchants both men all over again. The sticking point is, Brian is now a Catholic priest, and Jake a Jewish rabbi, and their religious obligations keep presenting obstacles to expressing their emotional feelings, and their lives begin slowly but inexorably turning upside-down.

The picture is very smart and very funny, and its mood, frisky and generally bright, is very appealing. Norton's direction keeps things loose, giving the performers plenty of room to work in and to find ways to riff off each other. Elfman, in particular, is both a charmer in the film and a strong character who can stand up for herself very well, and the film admires her all the more for it.

Norton as a director, though, can't seem to bear to bring himself to end things -- the film's story pretty much resolves itself at the ninety-minute mark, but the picture keeps going for over half-an-hour, and it ends up taking the edge off of much that was enjoyable beforehand. Nonetheless, Norton as an actor shows heretofore unrevealed comedic talent (his experience in Everybody Says I Love You -- and this picture shows some similarity to Woody Allen's episodic comedies -- should have caused him to quash the karaoke scenes, though), and as a director he shows a talent for handling actors. Anne Bancroft, in particular, does some of her best work in years, playing the part of Jake's mother. (One of the elder rabbis at Jake's synagogue is played by the great New York stage actor Ron Rifkin, while Brian's Catholic mentor is played by Milos Forman.) I, for one, would like to see him take one more shot at making another film.

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