Keeping the Faith [2000]

Keeping the Faith, Edward Norton's directorial debut, centers on Jake (Ben Stiller) and Brian (Norton), a rabbi and a priest who've been best friends since childhood. Both find their callings and grow into strong spiritual leaders for their community. The clever and occasionally slapstick comedy as Jake and Ben find their places in the religious community is precisely timed, and the film begins with a bang. Yet when childhood friend Anna (Jenna Elfman)--the perfect woman, a cross between "Jonny Quest and Tatum O'Neal"--finds them after all these years, both men fall for the stunning woman who is married to her career and her vibrating cell phone. But what starts as the making of a great joke (of course, the priest is sworn to celibacy and there's not much of a market for a rabbi married to a gentile) turns into a somewhat mawkish romance with mixed messages about the meaning of faith and the power of love. When Anna and Jake secretly begin a tryst, "just for fun," they of course fall in love, which is where the movie begins to unravel, as Anna is oblivious to the turmoil Jake might be feeling in having to choose between his faith and her. Jake turns into a total schmuck, Brian into a drunken idiot, and every secondary character becomes a clich├ęd stereotype, right down to the yentas in the synagogue and the kindly mentor (director Milos Forman) who guides Brian. However, despite the muck, Norton is surprisingly sympathetic and Elfman is an adorable heroine who helps bring some shining, fun moments to a mediocre film. --Jenny Brown

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