Two lifelong friends - Rabbi Jake Schram (Stiller) and Father Brian Finn (Norton) - find their relationship tested when another childhood friend, Anna (Elfman) re-enters their lives. Both men begin to fall in love with her, challenging the faith and each other.
There's something delightfully old school about Keeping The Faith. Playing like a romantic comedy from Hollywood's golden era, this directorial debut of actor Norton is imbued with a reticent charm that is a rare commodity in modern movies. Funny, attractively relaxed and blessed with a wistful geniality, Norton and writer Blumberg's gossamer-light confection is a surefire winner to lift the heaviest heart.
Even if the premise sounds like an overtold joke, it is neatly spun out, keeping you guessing at the outcome right down to the wire. As a director, Norton attempts a courageous shift in tone; early scenes are played for broad laughs, yet give way later to something more serious and heartfelt as emerging doubts and dilemmas become increasingly crossed.
A lot of Keeping The Faith's winning formula comes from the casting; Norton is a quiet, gentle presence, gradually weighing up his holy vows against his real world desires, and so reaffirming his position as this generation's Jimmy Stewart; Stiller achieves the nifty trick of appearing a klutz, yet still manages to pull off his serious moments and emerge as a credible romantic foil; Elfman nails Anna's mixture of career ambition and vulnerability, spicing the character up with her trademark kooky appeal.
If there are downsides, the movie has a repetitious quality, particularly in its last hour, and is a tad overlong. But there are numerous zinger lines - Anna on corporate fixing: 'I talked McDonald's out of the McOyster -, some understated points about the pull between the professional and the personal, the fragile nature of religious devotion and the jealousies that skewer long-term friendships. Plus there's an affectionate awareness of its characters foibles and frailties.
A heartwarming, old school treat.