Keeping Up with the Steins (2006)
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First off, a lot of what they do relating to the actual bar mitzvah is simply wrong. but okay, i can get over that.
I just feel like this movie had potential (and honestly there were a bunch of funny parts, it may have been funnier because I am Jewish, but there were many funny parts), but fell flat.
The movie, like another commenter said, has nothing to do with the Steins. They call it "Keeping Up with the Steins", open up with a Stein bar mitzvah, then ignore them for the entire movie until the very end. You can't suddenly try to add a plot at the end of the movie... it doesn't work.
Further, no one would possibly let the father do what he did. The wife, the kid, ANYONE ELSE would have said something. How about "get over it, this day is about your son, deal with your issues later." The day of the bar mitzvah is not the time to let that happen.
Also, someone rediscovering Judaism, learning his Haftarah, and doing all that other stuff in less than a week? It's just too ridiculous.
I agree with other posters... it had potential, but the characters were not developed well, the plot tried to do too much but then simply ignored the sub-plots (how about sacred feather and the cameraman? We're going to have him make passes at her like 3 times then never bring it up) it tried to create. Parts were funny, but the entire second half dragged to the point of becoming unbearable. I'd skip this one.
Another interesting thing about the 'Steins' film: while Jeremy Piven and the young hero of the film are the driving characters, the lasting memories of a film-goer actually belong to Gary Marshall & Doris Roberts. The backstory of their relationship, how it affected Piven, and how they've let by-gones be by-gones while Piven clutches to his old grudges is beautifully and deftly handled by the director. Marshall delivers the father figure as likable to an audience as the characters he created on network television back in the 70's.
One more interesting thing about the 'Steins': you don't have to be Jewish to appreciate the humor, you just have to recognize the strengths and failings of every human being represented in these characters.
In a nutshell, it is the story of an angst-ridden thirteen year old boy whose troubles are doubled by his pending bar mitzvah.
His father (Jeremy Piven) is a Hollywood agent intent on turning the bar mitzvah into a recruiting event to keep and grow his client base. This is complicated when his former partner, played by Larry Miller, throws a mega bar mitzvah for his own son, with the same intention in mind.
Piven's angst at creating the perfect bar mitzvah/recruitment event is made worse by the arrival of his hippy-like father (Gary Marshall), who is attached to an early 40-something New Ager (Daryl Hannah) and teaching English to children on the Navajo reservation. I guess it's supposed to be funny, just looking at Marshall and Hannah. Marshall's and Piven's characters are estranged, the father having walked out on Piven and his mother (Doris Roberts) 26 years earlier.
We have an angst-ridden triangle between the three men: grandfather, father, and grandson. (The trinity in a Jewish story?) Indeed, the only struggles in the story are between men. The men have no plot difficulties or unresolved issues with the women, or the women with each other. Frankly, there is no way men can have unresolved issues and not emotionally involve the women in their lives. It's just not realistic, not even in a satirical sense.
I gave this film a "4" because of the story. It has a significant flaw. There is just no moment when I felt a human connection with the three men. I was shown all the events that led to the all-important climax, and then I felt nothing. It was like discovering I had swallowed a Chicklet instead of Viagra. No emotion. No "ah ha!" moment. I was more concerned that there wasn't enough butter on my popcorn. And because I felt no emotional connection with or between the three men, I did not feel their catharsis. And that's a real problem for a coming-of-age film. There were a few nice moments between the grandfather and grandson, but that was it.
Regardless of what several "mainstream press" critics wrote and to the writer's and director's credit, I didn't see one stereotype. There were a few undeveloped characters, caricatures really, but that, too, is the fault of the storytellers it's lazy, not malicious.
Why it happened this way, I have no idea. Maybe they were forced to cut the film strangely or leave out things they wanted put in, due to money constraints. It just doesn't work.
The acting was fine, featuring some of the best actors on television today. That made it marginally watchable. Maybe television is where this film should have been sold. I see this as a Starz film. Not quite HBO or Showtime material. IFC or Sundance will be its home in about six months.
I counsel the writer and director to learn from this experience. You have to flesh out your characters more and let us in on their inner struggles. Don't tell us. Show us. That's what makes drama and comedy work, especially on film. Make us as tense as the characters appear because of the conflicts within the situation, and then resolve the audience's and characters' tensions at the same time. To paraphrase Woody Allen, if it's a comedy, make us bend with the character; if it's a drama, make us break.
For example, don't match Richard Benjamin's Bill-O'Reilly-loving rabbi character with Marshall's tolerant grandfather, and do nothing with it. That could have been some very funny stuff as the two men synthesize their worldviews. Instead pffft. Nothing.
And finally, have a bigger theme something the audience can sink its teeth into. I'm still not quite sure what it is. (And I won't venture a guess, because I don't want to spoil the ending for anybody.) Go back and watch how Chaplin created and then unknotted tension in "City Lights", how Sam Woods did it in "A Night at the Opera", how Marshall did it in "The Flamingo Kid" (another coming-of-age story), or even how it's done in the simplest episode of Piven's "Entourage". Have somebody check the treatment and script thoroughly for theme, conflict and catharsis. Then try it again.
I don't want this to sound angry or mean-spirited. But the situation within the film was just lousy with potential for a better film. It was all wasted. And that's a shame.
While most Jewish parents try to give their kids a nice bar/bat mitzvah--because this is such an important event in an observant Jew's life--there are a few who go to extremes, as exemplified by Zachary Stein's parents at the beginning of the film. Let me reiterate that parents like these, who spend obscene amounts of money on their child's b'nai mitzvah trappings, rather than keeping the affair modest and more focused on the spiritual aspect, are the exception and not the rule.
I was hoping that the movie would be a wry, yet amusing look at the process of Bar Mitzvah one-upsmanship, with the rival family (or families) realizing in the end that what is really important is what the Bar Mitzvah symbolizes, and not how lavish an affair it is. (Kind of a Jewish version of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," perhaps?) Unfortunately, as a few others have pointed out, most of the movie is not inspired or amusing, nor does it stay focused on the fascinating issue of one-upsmanship. Rather, it seems to end up centering largely on the unfunny Garry Marshall character, Irwin Fiedler (the Bar Mitzvah boy's grandfather).
Turns out Grandpa Fiedler ditched his family years ago--it's not clear if he ever paid child support, but it's a safe bet he didn't, seeing as how he couldn't seem to earn money back then, a major bone of contention in his marriage to Grandma Fiedler--and his son (the Bar Mitzvah boy's father, Adam, played by Jeremy Piven) remains resentful about having been abandoned.
The movie, IMHO, tries to drum up a bit of sympathy for Grandpa Irwin, portraying him as a good, decent guy in several uninspired scenes where he helps his grandson. In an effort to justify a possible reconciliation between Irwin and his estranged son, the movie even seems to make an effort to downplay the seriousness of Irwin's abandonment of his family--after all, as Grandma Fiedler points out, they *both* made mistakes in their marriage, and as Irwin tells his son, "Haven't you ever made a big mistake you couldn't fix?"
I didn't buy it. I never found Irwin Fiedler to be likable. Moreover, I couldn't help feeling that while Grandma may have made mistakes in the marriage, too, and while Adam may have made fatal mistakes with his clients, Irwin's mistakes were (1) not liking his work, a feeling which took precedence over feeding his young family, and (2) abandoning his family. How in any way can one minimize this colossal selfishness? How can these mistakes be compared to a few mistakes Adam may have made with his clients? And whatever Grandma Fiedler's mistakes may have been, she didn't just up and abandon her family. The movie never properly addressed this important topic, IMO; instead, it aimed for a more light-hearted treatment of the issue, in keeping with the overall trite and shallow tone of the script.
Something else about the script that bugged: A number of times, when someone used a Yiddish or Hebrew word ("mensch", for example), it seemed that there was either a tiny pause before and after the word, or else it was a bit louder, or a little over-enunciated. As though the writers or director thought that--maybe for the benefit of the non-Jews in the audience?--all of these words must be Spoken. Very. Clearly. And. Distinctly. Unfortunately, this made me feel that the foreign words were almost an afterthought--as though the writer went back over the script, looking for places to insert quaint little Yiddish expressions ("How about I add the word "mishigas" to this line of Irwin's here?") An effort to give this film a more "Jewish" flavor, I guess. But it seemed a clumsy device, to me.
Finally, let me just add that I could not suspend disbelief enough to buy Darryl Hannah as a love interest for the geriatric, not-much-going-for-him Irwin Fiedler. I can only wonder if Casting was given specific instructions on what type of love interest would be acceptable to Mr. Marshall.
Were there any bright spots in this trite production? Yes--Jami Gertz was delightful as the Bar Mitzvah boy's mother. And the opening sequence, with Zachary Stein's Bar Mitzvah, was a hoot.
Given the general lack of depth in this film, and the number of rather juvenile plot devices (such as when Benjamin is at the Bima to deliver his Haftorah, and he deals with his stage fright), I'd guess that this film may well appeal to teens, with the ideal target audience (given the Bar Mitzvah-related subject matter) being Jewish teens.
The Fiedlers are trying to one-up the Steins post-Bar Mitzvah party. Their son doesn't much want it, but instead wants to see the grandfather he didn't know. Combine that with the fact that his dad doesn't like grandpa for an obvious reason leads to an interesting confrontation.
There are a few funny things. Yes there is nudity, but not many people go for old man nudity in a pool. Also his cane is a nice addition because of its usefulness with annoying drivers.
The downside is that is comes off like a quasi-false documentary. While that is nice, knowing the soon-to-be man's thoughts, it doesn't play out too much further.
Overall, it had some entertainment value. "C+"
As Benjamin's own bar mitzvah approaches, his parents, Adam and Joanne Fiedler must make a decision about how big a party they want, and what theme will their son choose. Benjamin, who appears more grounded than his Hollywood agent's father, only wants to have his paternal grandfather, a person he has never met, at the party. Benjamin plays a trick by sending Irwin Fidler an invitation with a date of two weeks before the actual event. Little prepares him for the character his grandfather turns out to be.
Irwin, who left his family when Adam at a young age, comes to town with his New Age-type girlfriend, who goes by the name of Saved Feather, to stay at his son's mansion. This brings back bad emotions Adam has kept bottled inside him. He can't forgive his father for what he, and his mother Rose, had to endure. The old man is a changed man and his love for his newly found family serves to get Adam's forgiveness.
Scott Marshall, the director, who is the son of Garry Marshall, follows in his own father's foot steps and finds his way into this ethnic comedy that shows how people must compete with one another to show who is the one giving the best and most elaborate party, something that probably the children feel too overwhelmed, as it's the case with Benjamin. The film points out to basic problems in our society in which we must outdo our friends, and even our own family, in order to prove we are superior, or just to prove we have more money than they.
Garry Marshall steals the show with his Irwin. Mr. Marshall knows comedy well and knows what buttons to press to put the audience in his pockets. Doris Roberts is tremendously appealing as Rose, the wife that has had to endure a lot after Irwin left her. Jeremy Piven and Jamie Gertz are perfect as the parents facing a dilemma about to go broke in order to keep up with the Steins. Daryl Sabara is an excellent actor who shows he knows what he is doing. Daryl Hannah has some good moments as the evolved New Ager. Larry Miller and Richard Benjamin are seen in supporting roles.
Much has been said about this comedy as far as being targeted to Jews, but in our experience, not being Jewish, we found it speaks a universal language and people of other backgrounds will enjoy it as well.
The plot was alternately clichéd and incredibly unrealistic. The only positives I'll give to this movie are:
1. Jami Gertz - Absolutely perfect as the Jewish mother. My friend's wife is exactly the same.
2. Former Penthouse/Playboy model Sandra Taylor is actually quite good in a supporting role as the "trophy" Mrs. Stein. She hasn't acted in awhile, and certainly not in a film like this. And she actually gets on the cover of the movie poster too! I doubt she's going to be the next Diane Lane, but I do think this role will deservedly give her career a shot in the arm.
It is the Jewish version of My big fat Greek wedding. It is hilarious and will play very well in NY, Los Angeles and in all the communities where Jewish people live. But, remember My Big Fat Greek Wedding did $245 million dollars because it was so very funny. This movie is so much like it and very very funny.
So what is the film about? A fairly powerful man in the entertainment (read: movie) business, who has been a poor father to a son that is fairly incompetent at life. The "films" in this story are bar mitzvah parties, and the one we are competing with is (no fooling) "Titanic." You'll insert yourself as the apologetic grandfather, newly full of wisdom about the meaning of life (because of experience on an Indian reservation). The story? Well it will be about making small but honest films instead of huge, competitive ones with no soul.
Actually, I find this nesting-folding interesting as all getout. Its too bad that this movie doesn't even have a single element that is done well. So where the kid on screen has a success to beaming parents and grandparents, the kid who directed this must have come out damaged. Sometimes, help isn't help I think.
Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
Such as the case with this film. In addition to the obvious plot, we are subjected to an estranged relationship by a father's abandonment of his family 26 years before and his attempt to reestablish a relationship with his bitter son at the time of his grandson's Bar Mitzvah celebration.
Nice seeing Richard Benjamin back in films after many years behind the camera. His role as the rabbi is brief but to the point.
Gary Marshall steals the film as the grandfather and should be Oscar nominated in the supporting category. Doris Roberts, wonderful as always, plays the understanding grandmother. She is willing to admit that she was to blame as well for her husband abandoning the family years before. Ms. Roberts seems to be comfortable in Jewish related theme films as is evident by the television rendition of "The Diary of Anne Frank," the television film "Yiddish," with Harold Gould and the 1975 film "Hester Street" with Carol Kane. She is continuing down the path of the late Shelley Winters.
A film for all which shows what religion should be all about.
The performances here are better than adequate, and the direction seems competent enough, but the truth be told, this movie doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be a comedy, a drama, or some uneven measure of both. It is not as bad as that statement may make it seem, however, as it is entertaining, if only mildly so.
All in all? This is sweet and sentimental, but not overly so, and that's about all you can say about it. No matter how deeply you dig into this plot and its characters, there seems to be little substance beneath the surface.
It rates a 3.8/10 from...
the Fiend :.
Darly Sabara, the red-headed kid who was in Spy Kids, plays Benjamin Fiedler who is about to have his turn. So his dad Adam (Jeremy Piven) decides he is not to be outdone. Mom is played capably by Jami Gertz.
The movie was directed by a Marshall, and it was nice seeing Garry Marshall in a featured role as the Fiedler grandpa who, long estranged, shows up with a young girlfriend (Daryl Hannah).
Always reliable Doris Roberts is the grandma Rose Fiedler. And, old-timer Richard Benjamin is Rabbi Schulberg.
I enjoyed the movie just OK. It isn't my favorite type of comedy, and I don't know much about the Jewish customs.
The point is this is all very familiar ground, but nonetheless, remains pretty funny and a very cute, light-hearted film. Piven and his dad (played by Garry Marshall, dad of director Scott Marshall) have their bitter moments, but for the most part it is played pretty straightforward as a coming of age comedy with more adult roles than usual.
Daryl Sabara plays 13 year old Benjamin Fiedler, who is preparing for his bar Mitzi's, the rite to manhood in the Jewish religion. "Helping" him are Richard Benjamin as his Rabbi and his long lost grandfather played by the charming Garry Marshall, who shows up with his significantly younger hippie girlfriend played by Daryl Hannah (the second "Kill Bill" reference of the film). Benjamin is a wreck as his parents compete with the Stein's over the size of the party, while he dreads the chants that must be performed in front of the audience.
The best scenes are between Marshall and Sabara, but Piven delivers his usual fine work as the bitter dad/grown-up son. You definitely don't have to be Jewish to "get" this movie or to enjoy it. It doesn't aspire to be much more than a cozy couple of hours at the theatre and that front it succeeds.
The film opens on a half-million dollar party with a "Titanic" theme on a real cruise ship, complete with the young man of the hour at the bow of a mock cruise ship sailing through icebergs, spreading his wings and screaming to the world, "I am the King of the Torah!"
From that tasteful opening, the preparations for the next bar mitzvah celebration become a tad ostentatious. Not to be outdone, the next talent agent's son's party must of course be bigger and better: "It's the party that matters!"
While it's unlikely anyone reading this review has engaged in an act of "keeping up with the Joneses, er, Steins" at this level, it is also unlikely any reader has not similarly competed at more modest levels. Humor is reality exaggerated. This film might be just a little too funny. There are a few moments when we silently scream, "Ouch!" Who wants outsiders seeing us at less than our best?
Garry Marshall as the granddad invited back into the family after decades away is the voice of sanity who swims naked and tells truths. Daryl Hannah, still a "10" after all these years, as Marshall's "airy-fairy" shiksa friend, Sacred Feather, also swims naked, but unfortunately in a well-placed tube. Doris Roberts, as the grandma who never divorced her rapscallion husband, is her usual Doris Roberts character, played also as usual to perfection. Jeremy Piven comes within a hair of bursting into a million pieces from anger and the need to win. Daryl Sabara as the about-to-be Stein bar mitzvah, is wonderful: capable of a wide range of believable emotions. Cool kid.
"Steins" is a story to which we can all relate on some level, and thus we willingly suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. The ending would be predictable if we weren't so completely engaged in the shenanigans along the way that we don't take the time to think about what's coming. Even if we did, the film does it better than you would have imagined.
Not one of the all-time great flicks, but thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.
The Stern family threw a lavish affair with a movie theme based upon the Titanic. Ben's dad Adam Fielder decides the Fielders must outdo the splendor of the Sterns by renting out Dodger Stadium. Adam Fielder (Jeremy Piven) is not a little sore that his own bar mitzvahs was a subdued affair and that his father Irwin Fiedler (Garry Marshall) deserted the family.
Religion and the meaning of the rite has taken a back seat to the planning of an extravagant event. Enter grandpa Irwin who arrives a week early. As Dad bristles with a contempt grandma Rose (Doris Roberts) cannot bring herself to bear, grandpa with his ding-a-ling left-over hippie girlfriend Sacred Feather sets up his rusty RV on the driveway depreciating the property values.
Can Ben and Grandpa Irwin set the ceremony back on track?
There is an excellent performance of Richard Benjamin as Rabbi Schulberg.
While there is a gratuitous nudie scene when grandpa goes skinny dipping in the Fielder's pool with Sacred Feather, the film is excellent family comedy which speaks to a universal theme, the importance of simplicity and the eloquence of understatement. It is too bad more films are not made in this spirit.