Media : That sinking feeling

A Titanic-themed bar mitzvah sets off a battle of egos, life lessons included

Director Scott Marshall’s Keeping Up with the Steins should have just been called My Big Fat Bar Mitzvah. It’s obvious from the very first scene that the filmmakers were more interested in producing a warm-and-fuzzy, family-friendly comedy about the Jewish celebration of manhood than a smart, lasting satire of an event that can traumatize a boy for life. Then again, that might only be if your parents are Gary Marshall and Doris Roberts.

Jeremy Piven treads too-familiar territory as a talent agent in Keeping Up with the Steins.

Things get rolling with a Bar Mitzvah thrown by the Steins for their spoiled, horny son; the theme is the Titanic, the setting is a cruise ship, and, when he is introduced standing on the bow of a miniature Titanic, with plastic icebergs drifting about, the kid throws up his arms and shouts, “Today, I am the king of the Torah!” That’s all it takes for talent agent Adam Fiedler (Jeremy Piven), envious of the prestige the event has earned his former partner Arnie Stein (Larry Miller), to begin his own quest to throw the biggest, most obscene Bar Mitzvah ever — even if his son Benjamin (Daryl Sabara) clearly has no interest in either it or the baseball theme he’s forced to choose because he can’t think of anything else. Before long, Dodgers stadium has been rented, low-carb Dodger Dogs are being mass-produced, and Neil Diamond has volunteered to sing the national anthem.

Adam also must contend with the sudden reappearance of his father Irwin (played by the director’s own father, Garry Marshall). The Torah-spouting, pony-tailed hippie, who walked out on the family 26 years earlier, arrives two weeks early along with his tripped-out, new-age gal-friend Sacred Feather (Daryl Hannah). Can you guess what happens next? You got it! Mishaps, mayhem, and spiritual deliberations over the true meaning of the Torah. The true meaning, however, remains elusive for goy audiences, who are told this is about a boy becoming a man, but are explained none of the spiritual or cultural implications within the Jewish community.

The wishy-washy tale is held together not by smart writing, but by wonderful performances from Roberts (as Adam’s mom), Sabara, Hannah (more convincing than she’s been in years, but, then again, probably only because she’s playing herself), and Marshall, who, believe it or not, can actually, kind of, sort of, in a way, act. He’s spent a lifetime on the television as Carl Reiner Lite, but here delivers the heart and soul of the film.

The only real disappointment is the Piv. The guy has been doing this for so many years that his lines are delivered with almost-robotic timing (fans of agent Ari Gold on HBO’s Entourage will be disappointed). He seems to have spent more time sculpting his chest and abs (um, nicely done) than mentally showing up for this part. That’s too bad, considering he should’ve been the best thing about My Big Fat Bar Mitzv — oh, sorry. Keeping Up with the Steins, of course.


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