Garry Marshall and Doris Roberts help plan a bar mitzvah.
May 12, 2006

Keeping Up With the Steins

By Michael Rechtshaffen

Bottom line: A politely benign family comedy.

That religious rite of passage/status symbol known as the uber bar mitzvah provides some ripe fodder for "Keeping Up With the Steins," but what could have made for particularly potent satire in the hands of an Albert Brooks or a Christopher Guest arrives in the form of a politely benign family comedy by first-time director Scott Marshall.

While Marshall opted to pass up something dry and acidic in favor of a big bottle of Manischewitz, his movie is not without its pleasant charms, thanks to an energetic cast that manages to keep up with Marshall's highly amusing dad, Garry.

But even though the Miramax limited release, which took home the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival Audience Award for best feature, sees itself as having the same type of universal appeal as "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," it will best be appreciated by audiences who don't happen to reside in the Bible Belt.

Concerning itself with three generations of the Fiedler family, Mark Zakarin's script at least starts off with skewers sharpened -- at a "Titanic-themed" bar mitzvah, complete with chopped liver molded into an iceberg and the choreographed arrival of the young man of honor who proclaims, "I'm king of the Torah!"

Not to be outdone, Hollywood agent Adam Fiedler (Jeremy Piven) is determined to raise the bar (mitzvah) with a baseball-themed event held at Dodger Stadium complete with low-carb hot dogs and Neil Diamond crooning the national anthem, much to the discomfort of his timid son, Benjamin ("Spy Kids" kid Daryl Sabara).

To complicate matters, Benjamin has extended an invitation to Adam's estranged father, Irwin (Garry Marshall), an aging hippie who abandoned his mother (Doris Roberts) 26 years earlier and has now pulled up in front of the Fiedler's Brentwood home in a beat-up trailer, accompanied by his free-spirited vegan girlfriend Sacred Feather (Daryl Hannah).

The inevitable tensions flare, but the show does go on, albeit in a considerably scaled down, organic version more fitting for a film that's ultimately more about family values.

Although that choice means robbing it of some richer comic opportunities, Marshall does well by his ready-and-willing cast, which, taking the cue from his skinny-dipping dad (oy!), includes agreeable turns by Jami Gertz as Benjamin's mother, Cheryl Hines over-the-top party planner Casey Nudleman and Richard Benjamin as Benjamin's rabbi.

And, without spoiling anything, let's just say there's "Hava Nagila" and then there's Neil Diamond's "Hava Nagila."
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