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Film Review M: Bar Mitzvah Movie Can...t ...Keep Up...

Awful Acting, Awful Plot, Awful Jokes Make for a Truly Horrible Film

By Yong-Yi Zhu

Keeping Up with the Steins

Directed by Scott Marshall

Written by Mark Zakarin

Starring Jeremy Piven, Jami Gertz,
Doris Roberts

Rated PG-13

Opens Today

Mazel tov” would not be an appropriate way to toast “Keeping Up With the Steins”; “oy vey” would be much more appropriate. This is a comedy with only a few funny jokes and many unnatural, awkward scenes. At some points it tries too hard to be funny or outrageous, and only manages to be corny or dumb. Sure, it had a few redeeming moments, but the fact that none of them come to mind right now reveals exactly how memorable the movie really is.

The film is about a boy, Benjamin Fiedler (Daryl Sabara), who is not completely prepared to become a man, yet is trying desperately to get ready for his bar mitzvah. What’s worse is that his parents are trying to throw him the biggest bar mitzvah party in the history of bar mitzvah parties; they want to top the one that their friends, the Steins, threw their son Zachary (Carter Jenkins).

Ben’s dad, Adam Fiedler (Jeremy Piven), used to work with Zach’s dad, Arnie Stein (Larry Miller), until Arnie stole Adam’s clients and started an agency firm of his own. Adam wants revenge of sorts by upstaging his old colleague and throwing his own son a better bar mitzvah party. That may sound easy to do until you realize that Zach’s bar mitzvah was held aboard a cruise ship with a Titanic theme, almost as though Zach were a movie star himself.

Now the Fiedlers are wracking their brains to think of a way to beat the Steins. But while Adam and his wife, Joanne (Jami Gertz), tackle the guest list, the venue location and the seating chart, Ben is simply trying to understand what it means to go through a bar mitzvah. He does not feel as though he is ready to be a man. Instead of delving deeper into his Hebrew studies or better understanding his life, Ben’s plan is to invite his paternal grandfather Irwin (Garry Marshall) who left Ben’s grandmother (Doris Roberts) more than twenty years ago. He changes the date on the invite so that his grandfather will arrive two weeks early and divert his parents’ attention from the bar mitzvah party.

Adam hates his father for abandoning the family, and after twenty years, he is still as resentful as ever. It does not help that Irwin brings both his trailer home and his young girlfriend to Adam’s fancy Brentwood home. From this difficult experience, every person in the family manages to learn a little more about themselves and how they should behave.

Perhaps some of the worst moments in the film are the ones with Roberts and Marshall. They are supposed to be ex-husband and wife, but they still have the tenderness of a loving couple that is happily married. Roberts is extremely awkward in the film; her performance is almost artificial. Marshall, on the other hand, is simply over the top. He lives in a trailer home by choice, he swims naked in Adam’s jacuzzi, and he carries a cane with a sword sheathed within.

Piven and Gertz might be the two positives to take away from the film, but only because they play normal characters. They are the worried parents, obsessed with making their kid look better than another family’s kid. Piven is almost childlike in his role as the father, but he has to be — his character’s own father is in town. Even Gertz, however, appears unrealistic at times; at first, she is an overbearing mother flustered about the bar mitzvah, but then she turns into a comforting mother who consoles Benjamin about his problems.

After all the criticism, this movie may be good for one thing: reminding the studios that they are capable of creating a completely awful film. Let’s just hope that summer blockbusters — sequels and remakes though they may be — will have higher standards and be slightly more entertaining.