Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Keeping the Faith" a smart, pleasing romantic comedy

Keeping the Faith (2000) 
128 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B

A movie about a priest, a rabbi, and the third-wheel girl of their dreams sounds like a bad bar joke, which it literally starts as. Well, have faith, because "Keeping the Faith" is actually a smart, pleasing romantic comedy. 

Edward Norton, Ben Stiller, and Jenna Elfman play Brian, Jake, and Anna, childhood friends in New York City who lost their tomboyish third musketeer when Anna's family moved after the eighth grade. Brian and Jake have remained friends and went on to become The God Squad: Brian a priest and Jake a rabbi. When Anna, now a high-powered workaholic, gives one of them a call that she's coming into the city on business, the trio reunites and they get along like old times. Brian starts to recall the romantic feelings he had for Anna but could never admit to, despite his vow of celibacy. Meanwhile, Jake and Anna begin a relationship together but keep it a secret from Brian. Can this three be a crowd? Norton's first official hand behind the camera. 

"Keeping the Faith's" first 20 minutes relies on slapstick (Norton swinging the thuribles around, catching on fire, and dousing his ass in Holy Water), but once grown-up Anna shows up, it mellows out. The three stars share a real camaraderie and likability. Elfman, in particular, has a radiant, spunky energy and spontaneity that lights up the screen. Also, their support doesn't slack off either from the very funny, un-caricatured Anne Bancroft, as Jake's loving, very Kosher mother, to a wise Eli Wallach as a senior clergyman. 

Stuart Blumberg's screenplay lets its characters actually have conversations about ideas and think like real people, each of them having their own approach to faith. Once Jake and Anna's relationship takes the stage, the progressively complicated situation plays out believably, even if we still root for Brian. Actor Norton directs the film, this being his first official hand behind the camera; he shows a solid handling of his fellow actors and makes use of New York locations with bright, polished cinematography. 

He's still wet behind the ears, which brings us to the film's near-fatal flaw: Norton should've called “Cut!” sooner than the flabby two-hour run time insists. Brevity would've been better, as the film takes it time getting to the predictably cute conclusion, but "Keeping the Faith" is still an amiable, well-written film. 

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