Where the movie stumbles is in the exact same place so many other “crisis of faith” films do.
Go to AllMovie.com, search for films with the theme “crisis of faith,” and you’ll be rewarded with hundreds upon hundreds of titles going all the way back to the 1917 Russian motion picture, Father Sergius. For whatever reasons, moviegoers seem to enjoy stories where characters struggle with their religious convictions. Well, fans of such films can rejoice, for there is now yet another title to add to that ever-growing list, The Good Catholic.
There are two ways such films usually go. The first is the path taken by movies like Novitiate. Shown at Sundance earlier this year and scheduled for arthouse release in November, Novitiate purports to be a drama about the struggles nuns went through during the upheaval following Vatican II. What it ends up being is a thinly disguised attack on the Church peppered with liberal doses of sex and torture. It is an execrable piece of nunsploitation dressed up as an art film. Naturally, most critics adored it.
The Good Catholic takes the less histrionic route of movies like the old Audrey Hepburn vehicle, The Nun’s Story. In fact, it follows perhaps a little too closely in the footsteps of such films. See if this sounds familiar. Daniel (Zachary Spicer) is a young priest devoted to his duties. He even happily stays up late on Friday nights as part of his parish’s experiment to offer more opportunities for the sacrament of Reconciliation. On one such evening, the quirky, attractive, and decidedly non-Catholic Jane (Wrenn Schmidt) shows up at the empty church wanting to talk. As Jane continues to return each Friday, the pair slowly begins to develop feelings for one another. It isn’t long before Daniel begins to question his calling. In short, it’s boilerplate conflicted priest stuff,
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have charms of its own to recommend. It’s hard to go wrong with supporting players like Danny Glover and John C. McGinley. Glover plays Father Victor, the stuffy traditional pastor of the parish who is a stickler for details. Whatever you do, don’t crease the corporal on his altar. McGinley is his polar opposite, a free-spirited monk with a penchant for sugar-laden foods and rapping to Amazing Grace. They basically play the movie’s good cop/bad cop roles (or good priest/bad priest as the case may be), but they do it so well they never wear out their welcome.
The two leads are also very good with what they’re given. Spicer is picture perfect as the priest who wants nothing more than to be a good man of God, but isn’t sure what that means for him after meeting Jane. Schmidt has a bit more work cut out for her as the stereotypical hipper-than-thou coffee house musician, but she squeaks by on charisma. Their budding relationship is never 100 percent convincing, but by rom-com standards it’s believable enough.
Where the movie stumbles is in the exact same place so many other “crisis of faith” films do. A recent study conducted by the University of Chicago indicates that the profession with the highest level of personal fulfillment is that of the clergy. It outpaces all other jobs on the survey with a whopping 89 percent satisfaction rating. That is not the kind of thing one turns his back on lightly.
And yet, despite such real-world evidence, The Good Catholic rarely gives more than lip service to the appeal of the celibate priesthood. Sure, there’s the obligatory early montage of Daniel happily performing his duties around the parish. However, once Jane enters the picture, such as teaching children and counseling married couples are quickly shown to be dull and uninteresting compared to basking in her glowing presence.
The movie could have benefitted greatly from more scenes like the one in which Daniel inexplicably invites Jane to have dinner at the rectory. Rather than receiving whatever positive reaction he was expecting, Daniel is dumbstruck when Father Victor launches into a tirade against the young priest’s choice to replace God with this new muse. What makes the scene so riveting is that Glover’s character is mostly right in his arguments, despite the fact that he is ostensibly the villain of the scene.
Sadly, Father Victor is quickly chastised and the story moves on to its inevitable conclusion with Daniel running through the streets to stand triumphantly in front of the door he has chosen. If you’ve seen even a few of the hundreds of “crisis of faith” movies out there, then you can probably guess which door that is. And that’s ultimately what makes The Good Catholic a disappointment. Just once, it would be nice if one of these movies would allow its religious characters to make the same choice they usually do in real life. That might not be good drama, but it would ring more true.