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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Keeping the Faith

Happy June!  Since it is my birth month, I am being self-indulgent and writing about all of my favourite movies.  For some of the more well-known movies out there, I will be mostly reflecting on the why it is one of my favourites, as opposed to the usual format of a plot rundown and a wee little bit of reflection.  Not all of my favourite movies are classics – some fall into the guilty pleasure category – but whatever.  It’s my birthday month, deal with it.  OK, disclaimer out of the way, let us begin…

#341: Keeping the Faith (2000).  A Rabbi, a Priest, and a Blonde… This is another movie that my friend Val and I love, and randomly quote to each other all the time.  It’s not one that a lot of people have heard of, which is a damn shame.  So, here goes!

The Players:

Jake Schram: Played by Ben Stiller.  Jake is a Rabbi.  He’s also single, which at his age, is apparently some sort of major sin at his Synagogue.  He’s constantly being set up by the biddies in his community.  His best friend is a Priest.

Brian Finn: Played by Edward Norton.  Brian is a Priest whose faith is solid as a rock, until he falls in love with his childhood friend, Anna.  He loves his work, but when his crisis of faith hits, he questions his life choices.  His best friend is Jake, a Rabbi. 

Anna Riley: Played by Jenna Elfman.  She is Jake and Brian’s old friend from childhood, back in New York for work and to visit.  She causes a little bit of trouble when both men start to fall for her.  She’s a workaholic, and that kind of sexy cool we all wish we could be.

Ruth Schram: Played by Anne Bancroft.  She’s Jake’s mother, and is basically your typical “Jewish mom”.  She has issues of her own – seems her oldest son married outside of their faith, so she has pretty much disowned him.  She adores Jake, though, and keeps on pushing him to find a nice, Jewish girl.

Paulie: Played by Brian George.  He is the bartender that Father Brian narrates his story to.  He’s pretty funny, and offers some decent advice.

Milos Foreman
The elders: In both places of worship, there are elders.  For Father Brian, his mentor and I guess the “head Priest” (?) is Father Havel, played awesomely by Milos Foreman.  In Jake’s life, he has Rabbi Ben Lewis played by Eli Wallach and Larry Friedman, played by Ron Rifkin.  Some serious heavy-hitters here!
Ron Rifkin
Eli Wallach

OK, the rundown:

We open with a very drunk Edward Norton stumbling on the streets of New York and into Paulie’s bar.  After he tries to hit on a woman, and fails, he tells Paulie his story, revealing that he is a Priest. 

The story begins with seventh grade, when Brian and Jake meet Anna.  The three of them become inseperable best friends (“Two micks and a yid”, ha!).  Then, Anna moved away to California.  Sad. 

Father Brian takes us through Jake and his friendship and how they were each called to serve God.  They are young, idealistic, and energetic.  They start out a little rough, but wind up filling the churches with their funny, stand-up style sermons that have a really good message to them.  I should probably note that I am slightly biased towards this movie because it’s about faith and friendship, and what it means to have faith, and my dad is a minister.  So, I love the scenes in the Church and Synagogue that show the sense of community and how much these guys are not only good at their jobs, but love their jobs.

So, Anna Riley is coming to town!  They pick her up at the airport, and discover that she is not only just as they remembered her, but she is insanely hot.  Hell, I am crushing on Jenna Elfman in this movie.  Damn.

So, Jake is being set up by the women in his congregation.  The head Rabbi is retiring, and he wants the position, but there hasn’t been a single Rabbi in the Synagogue since its inception, so he has to go on these dates in the hopes that he can find someone to settle down with.  Jake!  Over here!  I have a thing for sexy Jewish men!  He goes on a date with the Jewess from HELL, which is hilarious.  But after, he lingers at a payphone, debating calling Anna… hm…

We see a little bit of Anna in action at work, and some flirty-flirty over the phone with Jake, who has just finished a session with some poor kid preparing for his Bar Mitzvah.  I love watching these guys interact with their congregation, it really adds some weight to what they do – it’s not a plot contrivance, it’s who they are.  So good.  Anyway…

There’s some trouble at the Synagogue, when Jake brings in a Gospel choir to try and stir some things up.  He gets a talking to about being too aggressive with his ideas.  And he gets introduced to Rachel Rose, a correspondent on ABC News.  She is gorgeous, intelligent, and classy. 

Scene of Jake, Anna and Jake’s mom Ruth bonding.  Ruth and Anna are a lot alike and get along really well.  Too bad she’s not Jewish…

Jake is preparing for his big date with Rachel Rose, but he’s nervous.  So, he asks Brian and Anna to join him posing as a couple.  The date isn’t going so well – Anna and Jake’s chemistry is showing.  After the date, Jake finds himself at Anna’s door, and the chemistry causes an explosion! 

Jake and Anna decide to keep this new-found “thing” to themselves, starting off as just sex, but eventually evolving into more.  Things get really heated when Ruth figures out what’s going on, and Anna reveals her feelings for Jake at a company party.  Eventually, things blow up in a huge fight between the two, and Anna calls Brian over for consoling.  This whole time, Brian has been slowly falling for Anna himself, and thinks that she is upset because she’s in love with him.  When he discovers that this whole time Anna and Jake have been together, he is heartbroken.  Not just because Anna is not in love with him, but because he was lied to by his best friend.  So, he goes on a tear, gets hammered and… crashes the Bar Mitzvah.  Ooops.

This is where we began, with Brian drunk and sad in the bar.  He receives some words of wisdom from Paulie, and then heads back to the Rectory for some real faith talk with his superior, Father Havel.  Father Havel tells him that he himself falls in love from time to time, and that Priests (gasp!) aren’t perfect, though they strive to be.  He does some soul-searching, and goes to see Jake, who is doing a little soul-searching himself.  The elders aren’t too thrilled that he is in love with a non-Jew. 

They patch things up, and go to the opening of a project they’ve been working on throughout the film, a community center that brings together the people of both congregations.  Earlier in the film, there is this hilarious scene with a karaoke salesman:

Anyway, it turns out that Jake has been given the position as Head Rabbi afterall.  Yay!  And Anna shows up at the opening of the karaoke bar.  Yay!  Throughout the movie, she talks about various classes she’s been taking, and apparently one of those classes is a Jewish conversion class.  Awwwww…  The three of them are back to being best friends, and Jake and Anna get to be together, there’s karaoke and awesomeness.  Oh, and Jake’s mom comes to her senses after a trip to the hospital in which she forgives Jake’s brother for marrying a non-Jew, and is totally cool with Jake and Anna.

OK, so why do I love this movie?  It’s well-acted, a good story, a nice twist on love triangles, and it is about friendship, love, and faith.  Those are three things that are of extreme importance to me.  My only beef is that there is way more focus on Jake than Brian, and I would like there to be a little bit more balance between the two. 

This is also the first (and only) movie I have seen that makes Ben Stiller damn sexy.  Just sayin’. 

The supporting cast is damn impressive, as well.  I mean, Anne Bancroft, Milos Foreman, Ron Rifkin, etc?  Holy crap.  The use of the New York setting is well-done.  The friendship between the three main characters is believable and delightful, and I wish there was some more of that, either in the beginning or the end, or somewhere in between, but it would be a much longer movie, and there’s already a lot going on, so I kind of understand why it was cut back a bit.

I really recommend you check this movie out, it is really funny, touching, and well-done. 

That’s a wrap!  Up next: Historical Nerdiness!

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