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Going a Round at the Bar: Keeping up with the Marshalls: Dad Garry's a keeper

May 11, 2006 By:
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Bar Mitzvah boy Benjamin (Daryl Sabara) holds on for dear life under the watchful eyes of his parents (Jami Gertz and Jeremy Piven)
The tribe has … schpilkes.

In a Jewish "Survivor" battle of the Bar Mitzvahs, "Keeping Up With the Steins" sets the bar high above a Jew's oys.

The Bar Mitzvah boy? Bimah him up way beyond celebrations ever experienced by others his age. May the Force be with him; but then it's the bills that belong to his papa and mama.

"Keeping Up With the Steins," directed by Scott Marshall, opens Friday, May 12, providing a check-off list for parents who know that there is a right way and a wrong way to honor this rite of passage - from boyhood into manhood into the neighborhood of thousands of dollars spent to assure that the boy next door will have a smaller portion of the week than your own.

And your boy? He'll read from the Torah with designer rose-colored glasses.

And now, for the check-off list:

• Hire Spielberg to have E.T. call home and congratulate the BMB before the ceremonies.

Check.

• Ask Eminem to throw M&Ms at the kid on the bimah after the ceremony.

Check.

• Get James Earl Jones to introduce the honoree at the soirée afterward in CNN style: "This is … BMB!"

Check.

• Have the Spice Girls - reunited just for you - go around during dinner and ask if guests want more seasoning on their Kobe steaks.

Check.

• Turn the temple into a huge skating rink and watch as Sasha Cohen does figure chai's in a preshow event.

Check.

• Hire a burly bouncer to man a red-rope entrance at the temple and only admit those who bring their 1099s as proof of income.

Check.

• Have a big check ready to pay for all this mishugas.

Check.

Check out "Keeping Up With the Steins" and see why the prince of wails is the kid who has none of these and must endure the chopped liver of that most shameful of celebrations: the glitz-free Bar Mitzvah.

With its tongue sandwich firmly in cheek, the cheeky "Keeping Up With the Steins" mugs elaborate Brentwood Bar Mitzvah celebrations, using a tallis to lasso the laughs and a yarmulke as a kvell-boy hat.

"Keeping Up With the Steins" is in keeping with the conceit that if you're going to do it big, do it biggest: If the neighbor has the ceremony at Times Square, you hold it at Times Tripled. If Neil Diamond can't perform, send him flowers and get Streisand instead.

The movie bares all the humor that outlandish celebrations in the name of religion reveal. But the biggest revelation- what could be funnier than Garry Marshall, the director of "Pretty Woman," going skinny-dipping in several scenes? A pretty picture it's not.

"I did it for my son," says the eminent producer/director of what he did for love of Scott. "He needed an actor who would do some skinny-dipping in the movie, and the other actors he wanted" - like Mel Brooks - "wouldn't do it."

So what's a father to do? Take it off - take it all off.

And Marshall helps the film take off in some funny directions as the zayda with a zest for living, which puts him at odds with his shamed son (Jeremy Piven), a hot-shot Hollywood agent who can't take even 10 percent of how his estranged strange father acts. But then Garry Marshall, the man who brought "Happy Days" to the small screen, is happy to enliven the big one for his son - even if it means appearing in his birthday suit way beyond his 13th birthday.

"Yeah," quips Marshall, "it was a little chilly, but I had a good time. Then again, there was no money for a body double."

Sure, Marshall's one of a kind. But when it comes down to it, what wouldn't a Jewish father do for his kid?

Dunno, he's not Jewish. But with that Brooklyn bray of an accent, a mouth meant to argue with the deli counterman on the freshness of the lox, and an overall appearance that reflects the many notches on his Borscht Belt, Garry Marshall is a Jew waiting to happen.

It happens many think that way, too. Although there was the time he tried to shake off the image and got all shook up … "I was in my first year at Northwestern University and the other guys there didn't like my accent, so I took diction lessons to get rid of it."

He also got rid of his social life in the process. "I didn't get one date that year," he recalls.

So the Northwest experiment went south, and Marshall made a case for an accent Casey Stengel would love. "It's New York. Everyone thinks I'm Jewish."

Including his son? "He always wanted a Bar Mitzvah, always asking, 'Why can't I have one?' All his friends were having them. So, now, he's had three of them," says Marshall of those depicted in the film.

Outlandish? "They're out of their heads," shouts Marshall of the L.A. way of elaborate parties that reek not of "Today I am a man," but "Today, I am a millionaire's son."

"And it's not just Bar Mitzvahs, its Sweet Sixteens, weddings, and it's not just Jewish things; it's universal."

But there's a twist and shout on "Keeping Up With the Steins" that would make Chubby Checker check his ego at the door. Is it possible that all the characters really learn that the Torah pointer is also a divining rod for the heart, and not a weapon with which to make a point on how much the ceremony costs?

Certainly, when they wanted to party on the set of "Keeping Up With the Steins" they should have kept the film's party planner, Casey Nudelman, played with latke love by Cheryl Hines.

"Craft services on this film? We were buying used cookies!" Marshall says of the low-budget shoot. "I had to chip in some money so we could get lunch!"

Pass the quips, heavy on the humor. After all, Marshall could afford the pay cut; he didn't need it for his character's costumes.

But what he did need was time. He shot the role of Irwin Fiedler while editing his own "The Princess Diaries II."

So, was he throwing around advice for his own heir to the comedy throne?

"Nah, we had worked together before; Scott did a lot of shots for me and Penny" - keeping up with the Marshalls: filmmaker Penny Marshall, Garry's sister and Scott's aunt - "and most of what I had taught him was as a second-unit director."

Wait a second. Yes, come to think of it, he did offer some advice, says Garry, although more Dad-like than directorish: "I'd tell Scott, 'Eat something!' Or, 'It's cold! Put a coat on!' "

Putting on audiences has been a Marshall law of sorts; Dad's parented so many hits - TV's "The Odd Couple," "Laverne and Shirley," "Mork & Mindy"; films such as "Runaway Bride" - he's groomed for success. But he's also acted on his acting ambition - stealing scene after scene as Stan Lansing, the lanced-boil of a TV executive in "Murphy Brown," and showing off yet another Jewish side of his non-Jewish life and the mettle of his talent in Showtime's "Twilight of the Golds." It's no surprise that Marshall's also had a dramatic hit as a theater owner in Los Angeles.

And don't forget, he crows proudly, "I'm Buck Cluck in 'Chicken Little.' "

There's little that Marshall hasn't done to acclaim. But if there's one question that raises a question - Jewishly speaking - it's the future of a "Pretty Woman" sequel.

"Who knows?" says the one who had, just a few days before, seen his star Julia Roberts in her Broadway debut in "Three Days of Rain."

"I'm so proud of her," he says.

And how much prouder could he be of son Scott in his feature-film directorial debut, where the Fiedlers don't come down from their roof but from their high horses in trying to live as one happy family? After all, this film, concedes Garry, is the Bar Mitzvah party Scott never had.

And, just what would Dad give his son as a present?

What else, he exclaims. "A fountain pen!"

 

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