Daryl Sabara as Benjamin Fiedler
Jeremy Piven as Adam Fiedler
Jami Gertz as Joanne Fiedler
Garry Marshall as Irwin Fiedler
Doris Roberts as Rose Fiedler
Daryl Hannah as Sandy
Cheryl Hines as Casey Nudleman
Larry Miller as Arnie Stein
Brittany Robertson as Ashley
Carter Jenkins as Zachary Stein
Marc John Jefferies as Tim
Miranda Cosgrove as Karen Sussman
Richard Benjamin as Rabbi Schulberg
Directed by Scott Marshall
Scene-stealing bits by Gary Marshall and Jeremy Piven do very little to salvage what ends up being a rather weak and corny satire of the bar-mitzvah ritual.
Benjamin (Daryl Sabara) is about to turn thirteen, which of course, means that it’s time for him to become a man by being bar-mitzvahed. Unfortunately, his parents are still reeling from the bar-mitzvah reception thrown by the parents of Benjamin’s classmate Zachary Stein, and they want to throw something even more exorbitant for Benjamin. Freaked out by the craziness his parents have been driven to, Benjamin decides to throw a monkey wrench in their plans, inviting his estranged grandfather (Gary Marshall) to the event without their knowledge, fully aware that it will force his father to deal with issues from his own childhood.
Over the last few decades, weddings have been fodder for dozens of comedies, so it was only a matter of time before other family-driven events would eventually find the interest of Hollywood filmmakers desperately looking for new ideas. What better place to find comedy than the world of Judaica, where wacky customs abound? Earlier this year, the Passover Seder was satirized in the indie “When Can We Eat?” but in the case of “Keeping Up with the Steins,” it’s Scott Marshall, son of TV and film icon Gary Marshall, who found the script and decided to take on the subject despite never having had a bar-mitzvah himself.
From the opening scene, the defining moment in every teenage Jewish boy’s life is likened to native tribes’ rituals of boys being considered men. In L.A., it’s not so much about accepting and being accepted into the Jewish “tribe,” but about who can throw the most expensive and elaborate party. Benjamin’s father is a Hollywood agent so he has lots of powerful friends and clients to impress with this party, but at the same time, he’s still dealing with his own personal issues from when his father Irwin left him and his mother (Doris “Everybody Loves Raymond” Roberts), something they never quite got over. Imagine their surprise when Irwin shows up on their doorstep a few weeks early for the bar-mitzvah they didn’t invite him to. Of course, we must assume that Benjamin must had at least some good intentions that he could reunite this troubled family, although instead, all of the family dysfunctions add to the bar-mitzvah stress.
After sitting through two dreadful Jewish comedies this year–one is mentioned above–this one gets a few points because it doesn’t resort to ridiculous Jewish stereotypesbad Yiddish accents, constant mentioning of obscure rituals, but that aspect of the movie is played down so much that you must think that California really must be housing some ridiculously ultra-conservative Jew. Not that the film isn’t somewhat credible in its spoof of bar-mitzvah customs, from the Torah reading to the symbolic lighting of the candles, and making the decisions of who in the family gets to do so. Anyone who has suffered their own bar or bat-mitzvah or that of their child can’t deny that a lot of what is lampooned actually does happen, only it’s greatly exaggerated to match the setting. Adding to this insanity is Cheryl Hines as an outrageous party planner, the catalyst for the Steins’ Titanic-themed bar-mitzvah, highlighted by a killer whale jumping through a Star of David. That’s really about as funny as the visual gags get.
For the most part, something just seems off with this comedy. The humor is sophomoric, trying to be edgy without going over the edge, which may be why a lot of the laughs fail so miserably. Few other comedies try so hard to get laughs from the dumbest of things, which makes you think that they really expect their audience to not be very smart. Maybe if they set higher expectations for their presumably younger audience, a lot of the movie wouldn’t seem so painfully dumb, though anyone who doesn’t realize that everything will turn out all right in the end probably deserves to have their jokes dumbed down for them.
The movie isn’t completely terrible with most of the worthwhile moments involving Gary Marshall, who often steals the movie as Benjamin’s outspoken grandfather, who does and says exactly what’s on his mind. It probably isn’t good that Scott Marshall allowed his father to join Terry Bradshaw and Leslie Nielsen on the list of “men we never ever should see naked if we ever want to eat again” though. Fans of “Entourage” should appreciate Jeremy Piven’s performance as a character that isn’t too far removed from Ari Gold, and he gives the role the same type of over-the-top comic rage that makes him so lovable. The two actors have some nice moments together as estranged father and son.
On the other side of the coin, young Daryl Sabara quickly becomes annoying, particularly with his first person narrative and fourth-wall breaking monologues. Not sure if he was any better in the “Spy Kids” movies, because I haven’t seen them, nor would I if it’s even remotely as cheesy as this. Daryl “I’ll do anything” Hannah acts more vacant than usual as Irwin’s hippy girlfriend, and long absent actor Richard Benjamin does a turn as a rabbi even less credible than Ben Kingsley’s attempt to play one in “Lucky Number Slevin.”
The Bottom Line:
Honestly, I can’t imagine any 13-year-old boy, Jewish or otherwise, who might have any interest in this movie. The hammy schtick that permeates every scene just doesn’t seem modern and hip enough for a young audience, but older adults who appreciate Gary Marshall and Doris Roberts might enjoy them or some of the other cast. It’s a shame that the material rarely meets up to the standards we’ve come to expect from any of them.