- Movie Rating -

Mass Appeal (1984)

| December 7, 1984

Mass Appeal feels like something that Frank Capra might have made, and if he had, I could only wish that he included Jack Lemmon.  This is a movie very much in the Capra canon, a movie about the battle of old will verses new ideals that threaten the status quo.  Lemmon is up to it.  He is an actor who is very good at playing average men whose emotional states lie just under the skin.  Such a role won him an Oscar for Save the Tiger and I think he’s just as good here, playing a popular parish priest caught in the middle of a potential battle between the stern Monsignor (Charles Durning) and a young priest with some new ideals about how the church to be more modern.

Lemmon plays Father Tim Farley who is popular in his Connecticut church for being a very colorful man in his sermons and very human toward his parishioners.  You might be apt to think that Father Farley’s sermons sound like something offered up on schnapps night at the Friar’s Club, but honestly, if you were in this audience, you’d come back every Sunday.  I know I would.

Farley is anything but a stuffy old padre.  He’s a very relaxed man, reasonable in his idealism and very open in his theology.  His methods are challenged by a young priest, Mark Dobson (Zeljko Ivanek) who criticizes Farley for his methods for being rather immature.  Dobson is an idealist who favors having women in the priesthood and a greater understanding of gays.  In other words, he prefers that the church get with the times and not stand as a religious stonewall.  Due to his complaints about Father Farley, church officials assign him to his church in order to perhaps to bring the young’un out of the rafters just a bit.

There is a lot of potential here for great theological debate and idealism, but Mass Appeal doesn’t quite go that way.  There is a lot of dialogue here – it’s based on a play – but it remains largely on the surface.  You wait for it to get into the meat of the debate between the stern Durning and the idealistic Ivanec but it never quite goes there.  There are a lot of good scenes and a lot of good dialogue but I am left to imagine that this film could have dug a little deeper, gone a little farther, expanded upon its base ideals.

Yet, I like the film mostly because of Jack Lemmon.  Yes, sometimes you just see Lemmon being Lemmon and not playing a character but during the scenes in which he is able to be challenged, we see the greatness of his talent as an actor.  He’s very good as a conflicted man, which is what makes him my favorite actor.  I just wish the movie would challenge the audience a little bit more.  Just a bit.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Drama