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Keeping the Faith is a thoroughly mediocre romantic comedy produced, directed and starring Ed Norton (Brian Finn), and featuring Ben Stiller (as Jake Schram) and Jenna Elfman (Anna Reilly). However, where it is mediocre in the romantic comedy genre, that’s mostly the result of the fact that it’s not really about being a romantic comedy.

In fact, I think it’s just hiding in that category in the hopes that no one will notice it’s about something bigger.

Keeping the Faith is a really really exciting movie and a spectacularly well-acted one that is actually defying the romantic comedy standard and attempting to say something.

Keeping the Faith is about what we think is important. It’s about what defines us. It hits us over the head with this idea a little bit, but it made me think. (Of course the fact that it had another incredible performance by my current celebrity crush Edward Norton made me think about it for days for a different reason, but that’s a separate matter.)

This is a movie about three people who all think they know exactly what defines them as people. But they’re each missing the fundamentally important fact that none of us are defined by any one thing. This is clear from the crazy Jewish girl that wants Ben Stiller’s character to punch her, citing that no one thing defines her. From the subtle hint of foreshadowing here planted in her deranged rant, we know ahead of time that when Ed Norton’s priest character declares that he doesn’t miss sex because ministering defines him completely, that things can’t be so simple.

What the priest has forgotten is that sacrifice is not a one time thing. It’s a choice made every moment of every day to be renewed in its finality. There is no having it both ways. And it is hard.

In the meantime, Jenna Elfman’s character is floored by her new relationship because she let all of her emotions lapse in favor of a high power career. Ben Stiller is trying to ignore his feelings because he can’t date outside of his faith without invoking the wrath of his synagogue and of the powers that be.

Each one has forgotten that he or she is human.

It’s a startling realization that everyone’s bound to make someday. And the wonderful wonderful, wonderful thing about Keeping the Faith is that it has no answers. It doesn’t even try to have them. Nothing is so easy as that in this film. And that’s surprising. It’s even unsatisfying. But it’s fantastic. I walked away from seeing it the first time with the vague notion that I was missing something. But the more I thought about that, the more it made me completely happy. None of them figured out what they were going to do about the doubt that was creeping into their lives. But they each grew as people, because they accepted it and were willing to give way to the ramifications that that doubt entailed, and to the places inside themselves that needed to be defined in new ways to accommodate for the multifaceted nature of any person’s personality, strengths, and beliefs.

There are other things about this movie. It was heavy-handed at times. But it tried, and so I give it credit where such is due. The acting is incredible for something in the generally sappy romantic comedy genre, and the acting made the movie worth watching. The only really unfortunate thing is that the chemistry is intense but poorly placed. Where Ed Norton and Jenna Elfman occupy each others’ space with closeness, rapport, and a certain touching spark, there is not much to feel between her and Stiller. Where we are dying to see Norton just touch her, Stiller’s first kiss is unexpected, uninteresting and vaguely hard to swallow. The timing of the film was also impossible, and you would only know months have gone by by the fact that the characters mention it. Frankly, if I’d been told the whole plot save the last 20 minutes had taken place over less than a week I would have scarcely been surprised.

But there are moments. Mostly the ones between Brian and Anna. Look for the bridge scene and watch Ed Norton’s smile. Look for the stretching scene. And I for one will be hearing the entreaties and pain Ed Norton’s couple of confrontations toward the end for quite some time.

Look for the way they love Manhattan.

So go. Go see it. It’s on tape now so it won’t even cost much in case you don’t like it, because really it’s nothing spectacular. It’s merely something unexpected and even refreshing. Go. Revel in the beauty that is Ed Norton blond with a priest’s collar and black leather jacket. And think about what you hold sacred. And shy away from easy answers.

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