Published Apr 01, 2000Keeping The Faith, the directorial debut of actor Edward Norton (Fight Club, Primal Fear), is at once a wacky romantic comedy and a deeper exploration of the role of faith and religion in contemporary society. It follows best friends Jake (Ben Stiller) and Brian (Norton), a progressive rabbi and hip young priest respectively, as they reconnect 20 years after the fact with their pre-teen love Anna (Dharma & Greg's Jenna Elfman),who is now a high-powered executive. A complicated love triangle ensues, forcing all three of them to re-examine the validity of their life's work.
The beginning of the film relies heavily on humour that is mostly religious and often borders on slapstick. While there are some genuinely funny bits, the film gets far more interesting when it starts to focus on the emerging triangle of relationships. The conflict between and within the characters is honest and emotionally charged as they all try to reconcile their desires with their duties. The film's success lies in its ability to confront deeper questions about faith and commitment, in both religious and relationship contexts, while still maintaining a necessary sense of humour throughout.
Unfortunately, the ending of the film is a little drawn out, which causes some of the momentum built up in the conflict to be lost. Norton is wonderful as the conflicted priest who leads us through the story, making tangible both his faith in his calling and his budding sexual desire. Stiller is also great as the rabbi torn between obligation to his faith and family and his genuine love of Anna. Jenna Elfman does surprisingly well at accomplishing the emotional range needed for her role, but is hard to really believe as the super powerful corporate type. The supporting cast is uniformly good, with a standout performance by Anne Bancroft as Rabbi Jake's mother. Norton's direction is simple and focused, allowing each character's emotional journey to be fully realised, while still infusing the film with humorous moments. Keeping The Faith may be a bit too heavy on the comedy at the top and on the romance at the end, but the middle ground proves to be well-crafted, intelligent work.