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Keeping the Faith

Losing the Touch?

By Rebecca Loh

Directed by Edward Norton

Written by Stuart Blumberg

Starring Edward Norton, Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman, Anne Bancroft, Eli Wallach, Ron Rifkin, and Milos Forman

Touchstone Pictures

Rated R

What do you get when you cross a priest, a rabbi, and a beautiful blond executive with every love-triangle story line since Three’s Company? You get Keeping the Faith, Touchstone Pictures’ latest lukewarm romantic comedy. While the movie has its share of laughs -- perhaps a few too many of the slapstick variety -- it is ultimately too dramatic to be lighthearted, and too light to be taken seriously.

The plot itself is awkward. Brian Finn (Edward Norton) and Jake Schram (Ben Stiller) are two single, successful guys from New York’s Upper West Side. They’ve been best friends since they were kids, and their friendship is unhampered by the fact that Brian is a Roman Catholic priest and Jake is a rabbi. Then along comes Anna Reilly (Jenna Elfman), who was best friends with the two in middle school, and who has now returned to the city a beautiful, successful corporate executive. Of course, a complicated love triangle arises, as Brian falls for Anna, Anna falls for Jake, and Jake, though in love with Anna, is hung up on the fact that she isn’t Jewish.

With a plot like this, Keeping the Faith could have been a wacky, irreverent comedy, poking fun at its own story line, and I would have loved to see such a film. Instead, the tone at times gets far too serious. When Brian realizes that Anna doesn’t share his feelings of love, he reacts with so much hurt it’s hard not to feel the pain and awkwardness of his situation.

And this is where the film starts feeling less like a comedy and more like a drama. Where the first half of Keeping the Faith is light and goofy, introducing characters and setting up the situation with plenty of jokes and physical comedy, the second half explores more weighty topics. Brian questions his faith, as he had felt ready to give up his priesthood to be with Anna. Anna, a confident, successful businesswoman, is suddenly torn between her commitment to her work and her desire to settle down and have children. And Jake is trying to figure out whether his love for Anna is stronger than his desire to please his mother by settling down with a nice Jewish woman.

While this sudden shift in mood is jarring enough, the worst occurs when the film shifts back to comedy to resolve the conflicts presented earlier so that the movie can end on a happy note. But perhaps “resolve” is too kind a word, as the conflicts could be more accurately described as pushed aside and ignored.

Though the story was disappointing, the acting wasn’t. Jenna Elfman, in particular, was wonderful as Anna Reilly, showing both her character’s strong, ambitious side and her weak, vulnerable side. Ben Stiller’s comedic talents were a great asset during the funny parts of the film, though I did find him at times annoying, and Edward Norton brought depth to his character (Norton, by the way, does a great Rain man impression). But the most memorable performance came from Ken Leung, who stole the show in his bit part as Don, the shrewd karaoke machine salesman.

Keeping the Faith is actor Edward Norton’s first attempt at directing film, and it’s a rather unsuccessful one at that. While his roles in such films as Primal Fear and American History X prove Norton has a knack for portraying the intensity required for serious drama, Faith shows that he’s not quite ready for the world of comedy. Sure, there were some very funny moments, but there were also times when obvious jokes fell flat, and other instances where the humor was very poorly placed. Clearly, Norton needs a lot more practice in this arena, but I would rather see him return to the more dramatic roles that I know he’s capable of filling.

When all is said and done, Faith falls flat because it is unable to decide whether it should be light-hearted and goofy or a more serious film. This just goes to show what happens when you take a seasoned dramatic actor and get him to direct a comedy.