'The Good Catholic': Film Review | Santa Barbara 2017

Courtesy of Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Danny Glover and John C. McGinley in 'The Good Catholic'
Good enough.

Paul Shoulberg’s debut feature won the Independent Cinema award at the California film festival.

An unlikely romantic comedy concerning a young parish priest struggling to discover the true scope of his religious calling, The Good Catholic doesn't so much challenge conventions as reinforce them. Potentially engaging enough to appeal beyond faith-based communities, writer-director Paul Shoulberg's feature remains a distinctly specialized item that would likely require dedicated care to reach beyond a core audience, which could be sizable nonetheless.

Father Daniel (Zachary Spicer) ended up in the priesthood as a tribute to his deceased father, leading to his position as the youngest of three clergymen ministering to a Bloomington, Ind. parish. Under the guidance of Father Victor (Danny Glover), a longtime acquaintance of his dad’s, Daniel conducts services, counsels parishioners and presides over baptisms and funerals.

Since the bishop mandated that churches remain open on Friday nights to offer confession prior to weekend services, Daniel has gotten stuck with the late shift. So naturally he’s on duty when a young woman (Wrenn Schmidt) shows up completely clueless about the established protocol in the confessional booth and begins randomly unloading to him. When he tries to redirect her, she tells him she's there because she's dying and promptly departs after asking for funeral-planning advice.

The next time she turns up, she tries to make up for her earlier abruptness, introducing herself as Jane and admitting that she doesn't have much experience with the confession thing. As their friendship begins to develop further after Daniel visits the cafe where Jane performs on acoustic guitar (and sometimes waits tables), Victor starts noticing changes in his behavior. Their colleague, Franciscan friar Ollie (John C. McGinley), tries to discourage Victor from interfering, but the older priest feels he has both a personal and professional obligation to provide guidance. Daniel isn't feeling very receptive, however, and to complicate things further he really has no idea how to deal with Jane's escalating interest, leaving him uncertain and adrift.

Shoulberg’s second religiously themed script (following 2015’s Walter) is somewhat more conventional in approach, perhaps to the point of predictability. A man of the cloth facing a crisis of faith, particularly one provoked by an attractive woman, covers some well-trod dramatic territory and the director doesn't do much to update this borderline biblical scenario. On the other hand, attempting a strictly platonic romantic comedy may stretch the typical interpretation of the genre rather too far to maintain plausibility. Partly it's a matter of tone: provocative material that might make for bracing drama or exaggerated comedy becomes less impactful when attempts are made to split the difference between the two.

Spicer approaches the material earnestly regardless of any shortcomings, persuasively playing a devoted cleric unaccustomed to having his beliefs challenged, much less by a young single woman. However, Jane doesn't have much to offer Daniel beyond a rather lame singer-songwriter persona distinguished by some puzzling eccentricities. So as a result Schmidt doesn't appear particularly vested in the role. As the cantankerous oldster, Glover delivers on his quota of barbs and bon mots, but almost loses out to McGinley, amusingly over-the-top as boho Father Ollie.

Technical credits are respectable overall, although urban Bloomington in winter doesn't have much to offer in terms of visual diversity.

Production company: Pigasus Pictures
Cast: Zachary Spicer, Wrenn Schmidt, Danny Glover, John C. McGinley
Director-writer: Paul Shoulberg
Producers: John Robert Armstrong, Graham Sheldon, Zachary Spicer
Executive producer: David Anspaugh
Director of photography: Justin Montgomery
Production designer: Gordon Strain
Costume designer: Lara de Bruijn
Music: Zachary Walter
Editor: Kevin Weaver
Casting:  Gayle Keller, Allison Kirschner
Venue: Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Not rated, 96 minutes