Movie Review: ‘The Good Catholic’

Review by Jacquelin Hipes

Father Daniel (Zachary Spicer), although young compared to his two fellow priests (Danny Glover and John C. McGinley), serves his parish with the diligence of a more experienced man. Routine defines each day, established during a weekly meeting when responsibilities are divvied up between the three men. His duties include a late-night Friday confessional, which lasts until 2 A.M. A woman steps inside the sanctuary just as Father Daniel is closing up, asking if he’ll stay just a few minutes more. It’s clearly her first time confessing; there’s an irreverence that never quite reaches disrespect and she’s more interested in thinking out loud than doing penance.

Jane (Wren Schmidt) says she’s dying and can’t stop worrying about funeral arrangements. It’s the stream-of-consciousness chatter of someone disturbed by something…be it their impending mortality or otherwise. She leaves as abruptly as she arrives, Daniel rattled on the other side of the screen, but Jane returns the next week, and the next. A new routine. Naturally, the more often that Daniel and Jane see one another—outside the walls of the church, too—the more disruptive she becomes to his routine. Beyond a few pointed flirtations on Jane’s part everything stays wholly platonic, yet a burgeoning relationship with someone other than God kicks off a crisis of faith for the young priest.

Loosely based on the real-life story of writer/director Paul Shoulberg’s parents, The Good Catholic examines the intersection of love of God and love of others with a surprising dose of humor. And the title is a bit of a misnomer: while his emotional dalliance with Jane may keep him from always being a good priest, Daniel doesn’t conduct himself poorly as a man of faith. Spicer has an All-American puppy dog look that helps sell a naiveté those less sheltered don’t suffer from. When matters between he and Jane turn messy he weighs each word before speaking, bestowing an appropriate seriousness on the situation and revealing a maturity beyond his years.

Danny Glover plays Victor, a stoic traditionalist who only sees Jane as a threat to the tranquility of his small church. John C. McGinley steals every scene he’s in as Ollie, the third priest who wears high tops under his Franciscan robes and quote a bogus commandment that allows him to wear an Indiana basketball jersey on game days. Astonishingly, he has more to work with than pithy one liners (although those are in ample supply) and lets a soft heart peek through on the right occasion. Schmidt presents Jane as Daniel sees her: a bit of an enigma. When Daniel suggests that she looks too healthy to be near death her indignant reaction could be that of a woman genuinely ill, or a lonely soul caught in a fib. Her affection for Daniel never reads as disingenuous though, which adds a realistic poignancy to his conflict.

One minor quibble is the use of voice-over; a tool that denotes laziness more often than not gives some scenes a schmaltzy tone here. Strong performances from all four leads are more than enough to carry The Good Catholic into the realm of success. In this era of sequels and cinematic universes, maybe Mr. Shoulberg will be kind enough to give us an Ollie spin-off next?

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