Review: Keeping Up With the Steins B

A Film Review By Stefan Vlahov

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a big fan of the HBO TV series “Entourage”. From the few episodes that I have seen though, the stand-out has always been Jeremy Piven’s character Ari Gold. He is consistently involving and funny, which definitely contrasts the mediocre performances by the other actors. Still, I thought that if Ari had been given a larger part, and not just a supporting role, he would have become annoying. Well, this is about as close to that as it’s gonna get. Here Piven acts like he always does, but in an extended role. It is a relief then, that it works as well as it did in films like Two for the Money and Chasing Liberty. Here he is really funny and brings a welcome colorful streak to a low-budget, underacheiving comedy.

Still, if a comedy is underachieving, it can still be funny and the creativity of writer Mark Zakarin (“The L Word”) is evident throughout. Granted, he does borrow some sequences and themes from previous comedies like Meet the Parents, The Whole Nine Yards, and Cheaper By the Dozen 2, but in most cases he still makes them work. Yes, there will be those people that will find this film way too below budget and way too simple to be funny, but that will be the effect of spoiled expectations. But what they won’t realize is that they are looking at what is arguably, oner of thebest comedies of the year.

Director Scott Marshall and Zakarin are trying to create something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but instead of Greeks, they are targeting Jews. Unlike Nia Vardalos though, they are not comparing theJewish culture to another one, but are actually examining conflicts within it. The whole film centers around the throwing of a bar-mitzvah for a 13-year-old Jewish boy by the name of Benjamin Fiedler (Daryl Sabara). The only problem is that his family doesn’t want this to be just another bar-mitzvah, but it wants it to be bigger and better than the best bar-mitzvah ever made. That is specifically the Stein bar-mitzvah made for Zachary Stein (Carter Jenkins), which had a bar-mitzvah that can only be compare to a circus in its grandeur. So the Fiedlers want to keep up with the Steins by creating an even bigger and more expensive party. Too bad they have a limited budget and the inability to get along.

Those are the two essential problems the script throws at its protagonists. The latter though, is the one that provides the most intrigue. Benjamin’s father Adam (Piven) and his grandparents Irwin and Rose (Garry Marshal and Doris Roberts as a couple that signifies casting genius) don’t really get along as well as they should. This alos creates the serious undertone that the movie has, which lifts it from pointlessness to actual problematic conflict.

The film is never boring. Whether you are watching one of the many speeches Garry Marshall’s character utters in order to persuade his family into making this a great party without involving his estranged son too much, or the fast-talking Piven complaining about everything, there is something here for everyone. And I mean everyone. This film will not only appeal to people that share the same cultural background as the family of characters in the film, but also to everyone who has experienced the same conflict in their family.

The cast is likeable all around, even Darryl Hannah who I usually dislike for some reason. Garry Marshall is also outstanding as is Doris Roberts, even thougfh she does channel her character from “Everybody Loves Raymond”. In fact you will be reminded constantly about past characters these actors have played before, which in the end makes it fun. It is something that I feel director Marshall has expertly incorporated into his movie and it makes it even more failiar than usual. Also Marshall’s film is never offensive, and it sends a message that, while cliched, is still honest. Yeah, we’ve heard the ‘money is not as important as family’ argument before, but it is never too late to hear it again.

The one thing going against the movie is it’s incredibly low production budget, which unnervingly becomes an evident problem as you are watching the film. There are less exras where there should be more, the image quality is not on par, and the bland look of the is not owed to poor cinematography, but to non-existant objects that the cinematography is supposed to act on. Also there is background noise, unintentional background noise, which is reminiscent to the movies I make for my English class. That is obviously a big negative. I mean, I know this is a mostly actor-funded project, but I’ve seen other indies that are of a higher quality than this one.

Overall, though this is a very audience-pleasing picture, not because it tries to, but because it pleases. Marshall and Zakarin are not trying to make up scenarios that will make anything more likeable or more recognizeable – its just that that’s what they are creating, and if it is likeable in the end, that’s great too. I recommend this funny film with a good message.

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