The Good Catholic: Wafer Thin, by Alexander Miller
The rom-com is a genre anomaly. It’s familiar, repetitive, and, more often than not, filmmakers seem content to stay in its play-it-safe parameters. And audiences don’t mind, so why fix what isn’t broken? It seems like Paul Shoulberg’s The Good Catholic has good intentions and an ability to step outside its faith-based veneer and treat its characters, both clerical and secular, with an evenhanded level of sympathy is commendable. However, in staying in tune with the genre it’s cozied up to, this story about an unlikely relationship between a Catholic Priest, Daniel (Zachary Spicer), and a freewheeling musician, Jane (Wrenn Schmidt), seems to lean on its pairing twist a little too much. There’s an insistence on cleverness that feels pallid and familiar, defaulting to the “imagine that” aspect of the story when the theme of mismatched lovers isn’t exactly trailblazing in romantic comedies.
The narrative thrust of The Good Catholic follows an unlikely encounter when Father Daniel receives confession from Jane. Despite her clever witticisms, she also reveals that she’s going to die soon. Despite Jane’s defensive sense of humor, agnosticism, carefree demeanor, and incompatibility with the church she returns to seek counsel with Daniel. While the subject of Janes pending fate would seem like a major plot point, it’s left to the wayside, only arising when some emotional gravitas is necessary.
There’s an admirable quality in a faith-based film that’s willing to challenge clerical celibacy, as well as find humor within the mechanics of the priesthood, as Father Daniel (who became a priest as a tribute to his father) is the youngest of three clergymen at a parish in Indiana. This obvious, but likable enough trio is made up of Franciscan Friar Ollie (John C. McGinley) and Father Victor (Danny Glover). McGinley is the comic relief, an unconventional but wise cut up, and Glover is the curmudgeonly voice of reason. While Glover’s naturally compelling presence and gravelly timbre are stand out, but John C McGinley steals the show as the lax holy man. Friar Ollie sports basketball sneakers under his robe, drinks beer, watches the game, smokes, loves sugary snacks, and beatboxes while singing Amazing Grace. Even though the wild card priest character is a cliché, McGinley taps into that wise ass charm he’s had since the eighties and turns in a memorable performance.
This dynamic between the three is more compelling than the love story. Each narrative advancement between Jane and Daniel feels like a diversion from the more entertaining story and fully formed characters. While Spicer is a fresh face and Schmidt has a captivating presence, their back-and-forths are parried exchanges of self-consciously rendered witticisms and predictable dialogue which grows old.
The crux of any narrative lies in conflict, the conflict of a priest in love is postured as if that’s enough to make a great story when it’s little more than a retooling of the rom-com formula.
If it seems transparent, it’s because no one bothered to fill anything in between the lines of this paint-by-numbers story. The few moments of levity come in spurts but the preciously awkward, matter-of-fact comedy only connects in a win-by-default manner.
The Good Catholic isn’t a bad movie but it’s not a great one either. Its attempts at being hip are about as edgy as Ned Flanders ordering a white wine spritzer.