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Featured DVD Review: Keeping Up with the Steins

April 17th, 2012

Keeping Up with the Steins - Buy from Amazon

Keeping Up with the Steins came out in limited release nearly six years ago and while it did well compared to other limited releases, it slipped beneath the radar of a lot of moviegoers. Now, like so many other Miramax releases, it's been picked up by Echo Bridge for a bargain release. Is it worth watching for those that missed it the first time? And is this version worth picking up or should you try and find the out of print edition?

The Movie

The film begins with Benjamin Fiedler explaining to us the coming of age ritual known as the bar mitzvah. He's a little worried about his for two reasons. Firstly, he recently went to Zach Steins' bar mitzvah, which was more than a little extravagant. (It was held on a cruise ship.) As a result, his father, Adam, is determined to outshine the Steins; he has even hired the same party planner. This goes beyond the usual rich person rivalry. Adam and Arnie Stein are both Hollywood agents and were at one time partners, till Adam left and took a couple of their biggest clients with him. Now they are rivals, even though neither will admit that in public and especially to each other. Adam is determined to throw the biggest bar mitzvah, no matter what his son or his wife have to say.

Secondly, Benjamin's not entirely sure what a bar mitzvah is. Sure he understands it's a Jewish rite-of-passage and what he has to do, but he doesn't know what it's supposed to signify. He's a man, but what really changes? As Zach points out, there's not a lot that's different. (Despite Adam and Arnie being rivals, Ben and Zach are good friends. Zach even tries to help Ben talk to Ashley, the hottest girl in school.) Karen, the smart girl in his class, also tries to offer advice about becoming a man, although her advice is more about genetics and he's still confused about the whole ordeal.

Benjamin needs something, anything, to distract his father from planning the bar mitzvah to end all bar mitzvahs, so he takes matters into his own hands and invites his grandfather, Irwin to come early, as in immediately. Irwin is a bit of a counter-culture guy and left Adam and his mother, Rose, when Adam was a teenager and Adam hasn't gotten over it. And when Irwin shows up with his new not-quite-wife, Sandy, a.k.a., Sacred Flower, it certainly is a distraction, but not quite the distraction Ben was looking for.

I think the best word to describe this Keeping Up with the Steins is "schmaltzy". Not only does it describe the movie quite well, as the film is perhaps a little too sentimental at times, but the word is also Yiddish, so it fits with the Jewish themes in the movie. However, while the film's plot centers on a bar mitzvah, it could be about any coming of age event. This could be described as a strength or a weakness, depending on your point of view. On the one hand, it doesn't narrow the audience down too much as you don't need a lot of knowledge of the traditions to understand the movie. On the other hand, if you are looking for a bit of satire about the extravagance that has become associated with bar mitzvahs, there are not a lot of pointed attacks in that direction. Also, it's as much about the dysfunctional Fiedler family than it is about the actual day in question. The relationship between Adam and Irwin is just as important, if not more so than Benjamin's growing understanding of the meaning of the day.

Granted, neither the coming of age nor the dysfunctional family aspects of the movie are unique and you can probably guess how a lot of the movie will play out in the end. However, the film has enough heart and the cast is strong enough to elevate the film above its familiar elements. Gary Marshall is particularly strong in the film, but it shouldn't surprise anyone that he brought his A-game and is allowed to shine, as his son, Scott Marshall, directed the film. Larry Miller and Cheryl Hines are always fun.

The Extras

There are no extras on the DVD, but this is a bargain film that only costs $7. The original DVD is out of print but if you can grab it, it has two audio commentary tracks, behind-the-scenes, and deleted scenes. Is it worth paying twice as much? That's up to you to decide.

The Verdict

Keeping Up with the Steins is a good movie, certainly better than its Tomatometer Score would indicate. It does have some flaws, including a predictable plot and some slow points in the film, but it is worth watching. The featureless DVD is worth a rental, while at just $7, it's hard to argue with that price.

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