Filmmaker Paul Shoulberg's "The Good Catholic" is a convenient, pocket-sized edition of ruminations just right for the soul in search of a quick philosophical challenge. While there's nothing new about this tale of temptation and the emotional tumult it sets in motion, the general quality of the human beings it brings to the fore proves most arresting.
There is a cathartic honesty in the story's perplexity ... an interesting look at faith as an improver of self and society.
Meet Zachary Spicer's Daniel, the nice young man who became a priest just in time to give his dying father last rites. Now serving in a small parish in Bloomington, Ind., his commitment to the church is a given. But while generally bright-eyed and optimistic about his calling, his contemplative nature stirs him to perennially question his devotion. To complicate matters, he's still in mourning. Regular explorations into the nature of faith with his two fellow priests address these anxieties, but the key to his inner being arrives in the persona of Jane.
If you are lucky, you have met a Jane or Jim in your life. Their presence may have been fleeting, maybe just a moment in an airport, a summer in a Catskill bungalow colony or a high school ceramics class. Yet in their catalytic being you saw a glint of clarity. So we fret a tad when the beguiling folk singer played by Wrenn Schmidt wanders into the church late one Friday night in search of a confessor. The pretty girl says she is dying, and wants to talk about it.
Oh, it's not what we think, or maybe it is ... but all the same the intrigue begins and those abashed by the heretical possibilities fear that the genie won't ever go back in the bottle. Nonetheless, a friendly relationship ensues. Our title character ultimately shares this turn of events with his colleagues: Danny Glover's older, conservative priest, Victor, and the more contemporary, almost-anything-goes Ollie, entertainingly evinced by John C. McGinley.
The discussions of love, faith and the various definitions thereof will please those who enjoy a dash into the sanctuary of heady thought for its ennobling properties, while those who can go only so far in a movie theater without a brigand firing an AK-47 will be beside themselves. But what our displeased filmgoer, doubtless a climate denier just for the heck of it, may not realize is that the quieter forms of movie violence are inevitably the greater weapons of destruction. A rectory dinner scene with Jane as the honored guest will have you wishing to excuse yourself.
But the appeal of "The Good Catholic" for the general moviegoer is as a palate cleanser: an arthouse respite from the big-box films marketed to our lowest common denominator tastes.
Don't get me wrong. Beneath my mannered veil of elitism breathes an avidly unrepentant imbiber of junk food, cinematic as well as gastronomic. Still, I believe that just as it's suggested folks should do puzzles to stave off senility, little thoughtful movies such as this allow us to touch base with our gray matter's infinite potential.
In trying to reconcile what they're going to do about their potentially taboo relationship, Jane and Daniel immerse themselves in an engaging, intelligent dialogue, covering all manner of subjects from belief in a supreme being to what the heck are we doing here anyway? Free thinking reigns supreme, courtesy of a blooming rapport that welcomes and celebrates the tearing down of defenses in the name of truth, honesty and a commitment to fellowship. We like these two. But what about Jane's looming death, not to mention that celibacy vow?
But that's just the hook, for there is provocative subtext beneath the conundrums of spirituality and the dilemma of forbidden fruit. Think politics. Remember, the current powers that be are more than happy to dumb down the entire idea of existence by foisting their greedily inspired panaceas. They know that all too many people would prefer the most poppycock explanations to the horrid thought that some problems are just plain difficult. The thought here is, resist. Keep questioning. Smart meditation and discussion trump the dictatorial love for simple absolutes.
These messages, obvious, hidden, tacit or just imagined by myself, are neatly put forward by the ensemble cast. Zachary Spicer is credible as the young clergyman in search of meaning; Wrenn Schmidt is sweetly bewitching as the winsome Jane; Danny Glover is effective as the stern senior priest; and John C. McGinley's lighthearted friar provides good counterpoint to the oft stodgy Victor. Final judgement: While seeing "The Good Catholic" won't absolve folks of their sinfully violent film viewings, it should prove a little blessing for the introspectively inclined.
"The Good Catholic," rated PG-13, is a Broad Green Pictures release directed by Paul Shoulberg and stars Zachary Spicer, Wrenn Schmidt and Danny Glover. Running time: 96 minutes
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