Keeping the Faith” is a romantic comedy for grown-ups, witty, thoughtful, sweet and funny. Always respectful of the sincerity and commitment of its two clergy lead characters and the serious issues they must resolve, it allows us to laugh with them at their struggles to live up to their ideals.
Jake (Ben Stiller) and Brian (Edward Norton, who also directed), have been best friends since grade school. Now in their early 30’s, they are still the closest of friends, with a lot in common — Jake is a rabbi and Brian is a priest. They provide a lot of support for one another as they both try to combine “an old world God with a new age spin,” and fill the seats of the sanctuaries with people, and fill the hearts of those people with the joy of worship. They joke that they are “like those young cops who shake things up – ‘the God Squad.’’
Their other best friend was Anna, who moved away in 8th grade. When she calls to say that she is coming to town, they are thrilled. Though they suspect that she will no longer “be 88 pounds and listen to Leif Garrett,” they are dazzled by her transformation into a brilliant, leggy, blonde played by Jenna Elfman.
Amid a classic romantic triangle – well maybe a square, if you include God, or the restrictions imposed on clergy – the movie has some good things to say about the importance of maintaining tradition (“it’s comforting to people”) while trying to connect to people in changing times. And it has some insight into relationships (one character says, “It takes at least 10 years to get to know yourself well enough to stop being a total idiot”), and the way we make decisions about the future (another character explains that it is “a choice you keep making again and again and again”). Some things are more complicated than we think they are, and others are simpler. The trick is to be able to tell them apart.
It’s a dream cast. If Edward Norton and Ben Stiller really were a priest and a rabbi, converts would be lined up around the block. Anne Bancroft is terrific as Jake’s mother, and Eli Wallach and director Milos Foreman are fine as the older rabbi and priest who step in to provide some guidance.
It may not appeal to too many teens, but families of those who do see it should take it as an opportunity to discuss their own views of religion and intermarriage. They may also want to discuss whether it is possible, honest, or wise to enter into a sexual relationship with the intention of not becoming romantically involved, and the complications of failing to be honest with others, or with yourself.
Parents should know that there is a joke about an 8th grade “shoplifting club,” a character responds to heartbreak by getting very drunk and behaving boorishly, a priest confronts conflicts about celibacy, and there are many sexual references, including fairly explicit sex viewed by the characters through a window.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “You’ve Got Mail” and the movie it was based on, “The Shop Around the Corner.