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Keeping the Faith (2000)
Rated PG13

Starring: Ben Stiller, Edward Norton, and Jenna Elfman

Rating:
****
out of
*****

A priest walks into a bar...and, wait, stop me if you've heard this one. Ok, that's a pretty bad way to start this review, but it's how Keeping the Faith starts. In the film, a young Irish priest, named Brian Finn (Edward Norton), walks into his local bar -- drunk out of his mind -- and begins to sob over a picture he's carrying with him. The picture shows two boys and a girl. The bartender believes that the picture shows Finn's children and that he's crying because his wife left him. Finn begins to explain that the picture shows him and his friends, Jake Schram and Anna Riley, in the 8th grade and that his story is much more complicated than any scenario the bartender can come up with.

The story he begins to tell is of his friendship with Jake (Ben Stiller) and Anna (Jenna Elfman) and the fact that, as kids, the three of them were inseparable. Anna's parents caused that to change when they moved to California and taking Anna with them. The two boys became closer friends and even began pursuing their respective faiths as a career. Finn, a Catholic, became a priest and Schram, a Jew, became a rabbi. The two were still inseparable, sometimes referred to others as "The God Squad." However, the three friends are reunited when Brian Finn receives a call from Anna, who says she's coming to New York to work as a business consultant. Both Jake and Brian will fall in love with her the instant they see her again, providing an interesting take on the love triangle theme.

A romantic comedy requires a romance along with the comedy and Keeping the Faith serves up both in spades. Edward Norton, who also directed, is about as fine as can be in this film, displaying wit and charm that few actors of his generation possess. The fact that he directed is simply the icing on the cake. Ben Stiller, who's been in some great films and some duds lately, does fine as Jake. Jenna Elfman, of TV's Dharma and Greg, is wonderful as the love interest. I've always liked her TV persona, but her film work has been of a lesser caliber until this performance. It's not hard to believe that two men could fall in love with her as they do in this movie.

The film's script, written by Stuart Blumberg, perfectly captures the nuances of friendship as well as tackling a few heavier issues with remarkable skill. I enjoyed little cultural references that were inserted into conversations and situations without seeming forced.

So, what's wrong with Keeping the Faith? Well, a few things, actually. None of them are serious, but they're a little bothersome. First, the film makes the character of Brian Finn more likeable than Jake Schram, but Schram plays a larger role in the plot than Finn. There's also a minor character that makes such a splash when he appears that you may find yourself more interested in spending more time with him than the film allows you. The film's also a bit longer than it really needs to be. It clocks in at 130 minutes, when it could have easily been wrapped up in 90 or so.

Overall, though, Keeping the Faith is a very entertaining movie that's well worth watching, especially for the performance of Edward Norton.

Trivia: Stuart Blumberg, who wrote Keeping the Faith, was Edward Norton's roommate at Yale. He can also be seen as the car salesman in 1999's Fight Club, which also starred Norton. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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