Review: 'Mass Appeal' Explores How Far a Person Should Go to Help Another

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday December 14, 2021

Review: 'Mass Appeal' Explores How Far a Person Should Go to Help Another

In the late '70s/early '80s it seemed that most every film Jack Lemmon made snagged him an Oscar nomination ("The China Syndrome," "Tribute," "Missing"). All deserved the nod, so when he took on the role of an alcoholic priest in a film based on the stage play by Bill C. Davis, it also seemed like a slam dunk for him. Alas, it wasn't to be.

"Mass Appeal" centers on Father Tim Farley (Lemmon), who has a very successful suburban Catholic parish where his congregation adore him, and he reaps the affluent rewards. His complacent life is shaken by a young seminarian, Mark Dolson (éeljko Ivanek), who arrives with some uber-modern ideas that seem to have the local Monsignor (Charles Durning) aghast.

Note: Many of these ideas have to do with defending a gay seminarian, so they're quite dated today... and yet not, since the Church still lives by draconian rules.

Mark himself is someone who slept with both men and women before deciding that chastity was best for him, making him a target of the Monsignor. Farley takes Mark under his wing, and the two learn from one another in sometimes surprising ways.

I remember loving this film when I first saw it, but it could have been seen through the eyes of a young boy who was feeling different and a bisexual character, even a priest, was someone relatable. That, and the seminarian was always jogging in these tight green shorts...

Viewing it again all these decades later, I still found parts of it powerful, mostly thanks to Lemmon's engaging and committed performance.

Ivanek is saddled with having to play petulance and disenchantment for most of the movie, and then must make a dramatic switch way too quickly after a "revelatory" moment. Despite this narrative contrivance, he's very good.

"Mass Appeal" was one of only three features TV director Glenn Jordan helmed ("Only When I Laugh" and "The Buddy System" being the other two), and he does a decent job, mostly allowing the actors to do what they do best (as he did with "Only When I Laugh").

The comedy-drama combination is appreciated, but screenwriter Davis uses it to deflect from dealing with any theme that gets too heady. His script tends to lean too much on the facile side. And his sidelining of the gay theme when he himself was gay, and society was becoming more accepting of gay-themed work, is quite maddening.

Still, exploring the idea of how far a person should go to help another is more than appreciated — especially right now.

The Blu-ray transfer is aces.

There are no special features, except for the trailer.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • Theatrical Trailer

    "Mass Appeal" is avaialble on Nov. 14.

    Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute