WASHINGTON (CNS) — For Paul Shoulberg, the writer and director of the movie “The Good Catholic,” the power of faith never made itself more evident than in his father’s death.
For Zachary Spicer, who plays the lead role in the movie, it was the depth of compassion in the priests he studied to prepare for his own role as a priest in the film.
Shoulberg’s father had been a Catholic priest. He left the priesthood to marry a nun he had met, but he never left his faith, Shoulberg told Catholic News Service in a Sept. 5 interview to promote “The Good Catholic,” which opened Sept. 8 in limited release in theaters, debuting the same date on video-on-demand.
“As my father was dying, I was able to spend a week at his bedside. I learned, by going through that process, how faith really allowed him to pass with, really, a beauty and a grace that came from his faith,” Shoulberg said. “I’ve developed a whole new respect for faith and his religion through that process.
“And while I would not consider myself a religious person” — while raised Catholic by his parents, he quit participating shortly before confirmation — “it was seeing him do that that made me wonder how that affects a human.”
Shoulberg added, “I was one of those guys who dismissed religion. I can’t do that anymore. I have various issues with organized anything — religion, what have you. It’s very easy — I have issues with this, I have issues with that. But now I have seen what faith gives a person … seeing what that really did for my dad in a difficult time.”
In fact, it’s what inspired Shoulberg to write the screenplay. As director, he dedicated the film to his father.
While “The Good Catholic” isn’t a retelling of how his parents met, it is a priest-meets-girl story. The priest’s empty Friday night confessional is interrupted by a woman who begins not with the typical “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” but with, ‘I’m dying,” a remark that leaves an indelible mark on the young priest played by Spicer.
This and other subsequent confessional scenes, Spicer said, took up the first two days of shooting in a compressed 18-day shooting schedule for the movie, which also stars Danny Glover and John C. McGinley as older priests in the Indiana parish that serves as the film’s setting.
“The thing that I have always felt drawn to in the Catholic Church, and what I think comes out in the movie, is this sense of compassion and the sense of really looking out for one another, looking out for those who are less fortunate than you,” Spicer told CNS in a Sept. 6 telephone interview.
“I have had the privilege, with all the priests and the bishops that we worked with on this film, to see that firsthand,” Spicer said. “I am fortunate that I have gotten to see the small details, the kindness that these priests and these people of the church perform. It’s opened my eyes to just how good, how good it is, to have a deep-seated belief and a faith and hold it like that.”
Spicer, who is not Catholic, told CNS his mother had him exploring different belief systems — a couple of months with each one — during his childhood. Still, he said, he was grateful for the confessional scenes kicking off the shooting schedule, “because those two days affected the rest of the shoot for me.”
These ennobling feelings have rubbed off on the cast and crew for a promotional tour slated to take them to New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, plus Hurricane Harvey-stricken Houston, where all screenings will be free. They’ll also spend a week in Indiana, including Indianapolis and Bloomington, where much of “The Good Catholic” was filmed.
At each stop, they’ll conduct a blood drive. “We’ll pick one person from the film each day” to give blood, Spicer said, adding he’s giving the pint at the tour’s first stop.
In his review, John Mulderig, CNS associate director for media reviews, called the film “unconvincing.” While “not disrespectful” and “free of sensationalism,” he said, the movie’s tone shows “a lack of familiarity with clerical life that renders it unconvincing” regardless of “the plot’s predictable outcome.”
“The Good Catholic” received a classification of A-III — adults — for “religious themes requiring mature discernment, at least one rough and several crude and crass terms and an obscene gesture.”