Keeping the Faith

Directed by Edward Norton
Starring: Ben Stiller, Edward Norton, Jenna Elfman, Anne Bancroft, Eli Wallach, Ron Rifkin, Milos Forman.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
April 24, 2000

Edward Norton has spent the last few years becoming one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, making films that capture the attention of critics and audiences alike. Now he has taken that risky step behind the camera to direct his first feature film.

Jake (Ben Stiller) and Brian (Norton) grew up together in New York, and have been lifelong friends. Each found a calling: Jake is now a rabbi and Brian is now a Catholic priest. Their enthusiastic sermons have made them celebrated within their congregations, and they are making plans to build a community center together. All is well, then Brian gets a call from Anna (Jenna Elfman), who was very close to them until she moved away before high school. Now she is coming back to New York, and wants to restore the threesome.

As adults, their relationship becomes more complicated. Of course, Brian has to live a life of celibacy, devoting himself to his faith. Jake, on the other hand, is the most eligible bachelor in the Jewish community, but his mother (Anne Bancroft) would greatly disapprove of him dating a non-Jewish girl (his brother married outside their faith, and now she no longer speaks to him). Both Brian and Jake fall in love with Anna, Jake is able to take that a little further, but both are bounded by friendship and community.

Keeping the Faith deals with these issues honestly, with humor and emotion. The opening scenes would lead you to believe otherwise, but that forced slapstick eventually leads to the heart of the film. Stuart Blumberg's screenplay allows this passage, and Norton creates a dynamic film that tries to be a comedy, succeeds on one level, then becomes a human struggle, and succeeds even further.

Few films could make such a claim, but Norton has assembled such a strong cast that the transition is completely organic. Stiller has always shown great range in his acting (as well as his writing and directing), and he supports this film with yet another wonderful performance. Only Elfman, who finally brings her energy to the big screen successfully, can outshine him, radiating sex appeal and effervescent humor. Norton quietly creates his own character within the film, and provides additional support to his own project.

I hope this isn't the last time Norton directs. I also hope that he keeps on acting, so a good balance is in order. Maybe he and Stiller can alternate starring in each other's films. Alright, I've made the suggestion. Maybe somebody important enough will read this and make it a reality. You read it here first, folks.

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Keeping the Faith (2000)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan