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The movie's source "Mass Appeal" play by Bill C. Davis was a two-hander i.e. it featured only two characters, Father Farley and Deacon Dolson, played in the film by Jack Lemmon and Zeljko Ivanek respectively. The movie also features a number of other characters in the opening up of the stage play for the big screen. See more »
Father Tim Farley:
You're a lunatic! And Christ NEEDS lunatics. But the trouble with lunatics is, they don't know how to survive.
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a study of idiosyncrasies and harmless little lies
Mark Dolson (Zeljko Ivanek) wants to be a priest because, as a child, someone boiled his goldfish. The alternate version is as uninspired - because he does not find fulfillment in intimate relationships with either sex, he is qualified for the priesthood. At any rate, he says that he wants `to help people.' A bit of a loose cannon, Dolson is sent by the Monsignor to serve as deacon for the now jaded Father Farley (Jack Lemmon).
What ever his faults may be, Dolson is impassioned. He wants to make a difference. The problem is that it is unclear as to whether the priesthood is the place for him to do it. As a vehicle for exploring the question of gays (or women for that matter) in the Roman Catholic priesthood, Mass Appeal is lacking because of this lack of clarity.
His lack of a clear `call' is foregrounded by his lackluster attempts at sermons. All Mark knows is that he wants to move people. He is uncertain about where his congregation is, or where he wants to move them. Farley steps in to suggest that he go for beloved. Hence the play on words in the title. Farley wants Mark to gain Mass Appeal by making the Mass appealing: if someone finds God in the process, hey that's ok too. Dolson will have none of this and founders.
Farley's appeal is that he knows the system. One gets the impression that he wants someone to rock the boat. Of course the irony of the situation is that in order to shake up the system, one must first join it.
Does this film have a meaning or a message? Well yeah, it does. But that is something for each viewer to figure out for him or herself. It won't make you hate or love the church (any church this one just happens to be Roman Catholic). Did I like the film? Yes. Is it my favorite? No not even close. It is a study of idiosyncrasies and harmless little lies (`I didn't know there was such a thing,' says Dolan). Jack Lemmon is in it for goodness sake, what else could you want?
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