In most every culture from most every era, the transition from childhood to adulthood (or at least adolescence) is considered a big deal. Some include ritualized ceremonies, such as certain tribal societies where a first big successful hunt marks the event.
Young Benjamin Fiedler -- "Spy Kids" Daryl Sabara (apparently not yet having hit his growth spurt after those films) -- wishes it were that simple with his "tribe." That, of course, would be the chosen people of Abraham or Jewish folk for all you Gentiles out there (including yours truly). Benji is concerned -- actually terrified -- because his people's ritual -- the Bar Mitzvah -- is quickly approaching.
But it isn't the ceremony that has him concerned. Instead, it's his father's obsession of doing the titular thing in "Keeping Up with the Steins." Having just seen the figurative and literal Titanic-sized Bar Mitzvah Arnie Stein (Larry Miller) has thrown for his son, Adam Fiedler (Jeremy Piven) wants to match and possibly outdo his former talent agent partner.
All of which means young Benjamin is in for a rocky, tumultuous and ego-driven, transitional rite. To counter that, he invites his dad's long-estranged father to attend, hoping that his presence will deflect some of Adam's increasingly frantic obsession with the event. And thus what begins as something of a satire on parents competing against each other through their kids (see also graduation, prom and even "simple" birthday parties) turns into a familial dramedy complete with all of the usual trappings.
Not surprisingly but nevertheless still disappointing, the satirical elements are shoved aside by the sitcom-ish material that takes over once that father vs. father plot thrust is introduced. Which, I suppose, shouldn't be that much of a surprise considering that the first-time feature director, Scott Marshall, is the son of cast member Garry Marshall who plays the grandfather here and made quite a career for himself directing a slew of sitcoms decades ago.
Many of the characters are from the situation comedy playbook (including "Everybody Loves Raymond's" Doris Roberts playing the grandmother again), the laughs are more amusing than hilarious, and the proceedings are about as predictable as they come.
Not being Jewish, I'm guessing I probably missed out on some of the related humor, and it might have been wise for screenwriter Mark Zakarin to have included a primer about Bar Mitzvahs and such (which could have been done in a quick and funny montage) to get all viewers on a level playing field.
Sabara makes for a decently appealing protagonist despite not being as charming or cute as Fred Savage was back on TV's "The Wonder Years" and not getting the level of funny or observational dialogue the 13-year-old character deserves and needs to pop off the screen. Jeremy Piven is appropriately annoying as the obsessed father, while Garry Marshall plays the wise, hippie-ish grandfather (who continues the recent trend of older men baring their obviously aged tushies on screen). The two naturally clash, but the fireworks between them are lacking and thus diminish both the humorous and dramatic results.
Jamie Gertz is pretty much forgettable as the stereotypical wife/mother character who finally grows a backbone, while the likes of Daryl Hannah, Larry Miller and Brittany Robertson appear in supporting roles that never amount to much and/or don't escape their sitcom-ish trappings. Which also holds true for the overall film. Occasionally cute and supporting a pro-family message, the film is far better when satirizing competitive parents than it is during the dysfunctional family moments.