Keeping the Faith

Starring Ed Norton, Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman
Directed by Ed Norton

My Rating:

Funnier, sexier, and more hip than something serious, frumpy, and square.

Add 1/4 star for each cast member you really like.
Add 1/4 star if you're young, hip, with it, and very proud of yourself.
Add 1/4 star if you're in the mood for a light romp.

Bitable Bytes:
"An excellent escape...!"
"The math proves this movie is both funny and hip!"
"...The best movie of the year...!"
"A good in-flight movie!"

What to do while watching:
Fly. It's not out on video yet, but airlines are showing it.

What to eat while watching:
Any and all edible parts of the in-flight meal.

New York, NY. What a town! Nowhere else do I feel so engaged by life and culture. The Mrs. and I caught a screening of the Cannes winner, Dark Days, created by Mark Singer about the homeless shanty-town that existed underneath Penn Station. We went to the Whitney and stepped into a room-sized Barbara Kruger painting, looked at the raw portraiture of Alice Neel, and scoffed at the rather shallow new work of Robert Rauschenberg teamed up with cultural luminaries like David Byrne, Martha Stewart, and Mike Wallace. We whet our high palates on foie gras, lobster, and banana mousse at Bice, then filled our mouths with grease at Nathan's, Coney Island. It was a fantastic vacation, but with all the tromping around and satiation of high and low appetites, I needed a break.

Fortunately, the plane ride back over the continent offered a film that was an excellent escape from high culture. Keeping the Faith is the movie adaptation of a joke that begins, "A rabbi and a priest decide to open a karaoke lounge" Actually, it's the movie adaptation of the set-up of that joke. There really is no punch line. Ben Stiller is the rabbi, and Ed Norton is the priest (and the director). Lifelong friends, the two bring contemporary, young energy to their respective religious organizations. The story really begins when they are reunited with the third musketeer of their childhood gang: the brilliant and beautiful Anna, played by Jenna Elfman.

Sexual tension is immediate, and quickly consummated between Elfman and Stiller. To throw a wrench in, Norton also falls in love with Elfman. What complicates all this, of course, is that the two holies are devoted to their lives' callings. Norton has accepted celibacy, and Stiller must marry a Jewish girl--which Elfman is not--in order to fulfill the expectations of his congregation and his mother (Anne Bancroft). To make sure we know how serious this conflict is, Stiller has an unseen older brother who has been ostracized by Bancroft for marrying a Catholic girl.

From the first moments, it's clear that this is going to be a funny movie. In fact, after the third pratfall in the first 10 minutes of Keeping the Faith, I decided to keep a tally. Since pop-culture references were also flying fast and furious, I decided to tally those as well. With 10 pratfalls and other bumblings and well over twice as many pop-culture shout-outs, the math proves this picture is both funny and hip.

Put Stiller in a movie, and you know it's going to appeal to the young sophisticate. He's a walking ironic statement. Name-droppings of Tae-Bo, Howard Stern, and vibrating pagers (and none of Mark Singer, Barbara Kruger, or Alice Neel) were directed at a demographic that is exactly my age, just slightly wealthier, and much more happily steeped in MTV culture. If you're into this kind of thing, you will flash at least ten knowing smirks per hour while watching this movie.

But what about people who like romance? Well, halfway into the movie, I had to add talies for romantic dialogues, pop songs, and declarations of love as well. I counted a good dozen unpardonable clichés in the last half of the movie, and I think that these will appeal to people who like their romance plain and simple.

So, this movie is hip, funny, and romantic. And it doesn't take a lot of attention. In fact, it's a great movie for people who want to watch something while doing some HTML programming, technical writing, or intricate electrical wiring. With extra attention on my hands, and strapped as I was into the plane as it winged westward, I had the time to mathematically analyze the hip, funny, and romantic quotients of this film. My results are as follows:

Hip elements

Pop-references: 25 at least.

Direct demographic appeals: 6. Each counts double since they are such aggressive plays for hipness: 12 points total.

Cinematographic tricks: 6

Direct praise of and appeal to New York and New Yorkers: 6, and I may have missed a few.

Presence of Stiller and his smirk: 5 points.

Presence of Norton and his voiceovers: 5 points.

Presence of Elfman: 3 points.

Total Hip Quotient: 62


Funny elements

Pratfalls and the like: 10

Religious gags: 15, mostly Jewish.

Dialogue zingers, reminiscent of Friends: 11 (Incidentally, the in-flight entertainment included an episode of Friends, and the juxtaposition brought the similarity of that TV show and this movie into stark focus.)

Guys vs. Girls jokes: 4

Presence of Stiller and his mugging: 2 points

Presence of Norton and his comedic ability: 1/2 point.

Presence of Elfman and her spunkiness: 1 point.

Presence of "Dong," the wacky character: 4 points.

Total Funny Quotient: 47-1/2


Romantic Elements:

Pop songs: 7. Two songs were played in full, worth 5 points each, for a total of 15

Dialogues about love: 8, plus about 4 for other dialogues that carried a heavy undertone of romantic subjects narrowly skirted. 12 total.

Subtle homoerotic moments between Stiller and Norton: 4 Each counts as 1/2 due to the subtlety.

Romantic plot points. 3. Norton confesses his love. Stiller runs away from love. Anne reveals what kind of classes she is taking, as if we couldn't figure it out at first mention.

Romantic cliches: 13, a baker's dozen. And this is only the really unforgivable ones.

Climactic love declaration scene (Stiller to Elfman): 5 points

Anti-climatic love declaration scene (Norton to Elfman): 2 points

Initial love declaration scene, played self-consciously and written as if the characters were still in 7th grade (Elfman to Stiller): 1 point.

Sex scene between Elfman and Stiller: 0 points. If you find Stiller sexy, you'll have to do your own math.

Total Romantic Quotient: 53


There it is: proof that this is a primarily hip romantic comedy as opposed to a comedic hip romance or a romantic and comedic hipster film. Mainly, it's a good in-flight movie because you won't kick yourself if you fall asleep halfway through. My rating also builds in some extra stars for people who really groove on this kind of movie. These people may find Keeping the Faith to be the best movie of the year, until the next comedic romance for the hip is released two to three weeks from now.

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