Keeping Up with the Steins (2006)
Release Date: June 2nd, 2006 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Scott Marshall Actors: Daryl Sabara, Jami Gertz, Jeremy Piven, Cheryl Hines, Carter Jenkins, Sandra Taylor, Larry Miller, Miranda Cosgrove, Doris Roberts, Garry Marshall, Daryl Hannah
dam Fiedler’s (Jeremy Piven) son is destined to have the most luxurious and elaborate bar mitzvah ever designed, solely to outdo the Stein family, with whom they are apparently – and for no reason – in constant competition. Benjamin Fiedler (Daryl Sabara), the son forced into this elaborate scheme – even though he doesn’t really understand the basis for or meaning of the rituals – is also good friends with Zachary Stein (Carter Jenkins), the invented rival who similarly doesn’t care about oneupmanship. Nevertheless, he’s shown in the opening scene partaking in his $500,000 movie-themed bar mitzvah, fully orchestrated by his own obnoxious family.
Estranged by the calamity of his parent’s overboard party-planning, Ben secretly invites his grandfather, Irwin (Garry Marshall), whom he and his father haven’t seen for years, knowing it will cause an even greater commotion – which should drive some of the unwanted attention away. This, however, forces Adam to have to deal with his own bitter feelings toward his father, derived from being abandoned at an early age. Clearly, it’s the subject of parenting that undergoes scrutiny in this familial melodrama of excesses, competitiveness, the miscarriage of a support system, and mild revelations on contentment.
The characters are all unusually dull and, though there are plenty of religious, Jewish components to the proceedings, rather straightforward in their despicableness. They’re generic, predictable, and dislikable; they’re the epitome of socially contemptible people engaging in equally disagreeable activities. But, more important to its devastating blunder, “Keeping Up with the Steins” is completely devoid of humor. Even the typical, cheap, or easy laughs are nonexistent. And the supporting characters, many of whom are included solely for comic relief, fail to bring humor to the table. Several recognizable character actors make an appearance, including Cheryl Hines, Jami Gertz, Larry Miller, Doris Roberts, and even Daryl Hannah, but the only emotion they summon is severe pity, simply due to their involvement with this pathetic project.
Even the technical elements are devoid of verve. Visually, the film lacks the standard Hollywood luster, with cinematography, staging, set designs, and soundtrack all failing to complement the strangely temperate happenings of vying and jealousy and sabotage. A specific target audience was surely never predetermined, since even strictly Jewish audiences aren’t likely to find the depictions of their customs or the attitudes of their followers to be positive, amusingly skewering, or even slightly representative of their values. If there was genuine satirization or even self-mockery, perhaps it would have been good for a laugh, but this poorly scripted, badly directed picture is unappealing to any age group, gender, or ethnicity. Fortunately, it’s short (90 minutes), though it tries its hardest to feel like a 3-hour bore.
– Mike Massie